Archives for June 2013

VOICES: The Loneliest Place in the World

By Shawn Smith. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

elmira2The following essay is by Shawn Smith, who is serving time for drug sales and assault in New York. He is one of some 4,500 individuals currently being held in isolated confinement in the state’s prison system. In a letter to Solitary Watch, he writes “I’m so lonely that I dream of human contact with the outside world…and I was hoping that you could find it in your heart to embrace me as a friend and help me get my essay up on your website. So that people can become aware of the levels of injustices and sorrow that has been bestowed upon me involving my solitary confinement experience…I feel so hopeless that I’ve spilled out my heart into this essay and I’m sending it to you in hopes that some change can come to me from it.”  Shawn Smith’s mailing address is #07A1605, Elmira Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 500, Elmira, New York 14901-0500. –James Ridgeway

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Four walls! A ceiling! And a floor eight by ten feet in dimension! In my eyes, this is the worst torture device in the history of the universe! Within this small enclave many men have fallen apart and broken down mentally into a deep stage of sorrow. That has made us (myself included) drop to our knees with lakes of tears under our eyes that cascade down our face. As we ask God “Why me? Why must I suffer this unbearable pain and burden?”

This place has made me feel so hopeless that I’ve dosed on pills two times and was rushed to the hospital where they pumped my stomach clean of the many painkillers and anti-depression pills that I digested in hopes of going to a better place! I’ve hung up with a self-made noose and sliced my wrist, because this place has driven me to the brink of insanity and I felt like I would rather be dead than live like a dog in a cage at the unwanted animal shelter.

In this place, I’ve lost and found my sanity time and time again. What really shook me up and made me find the inner strength to fight for the willpower to want to live my life and fight to survive in this place was when I saw the COs carry a friend I made in the brother in the cell next-door to me away in a black bag!

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NEWS: NYC Board of Correction Rejects Regulating Use of Solitary Confinement

Press Release from the Jails Action Coalition.

BOC Meeting

JAC members at the Board of Correction meeting.

June 3 – Today, the Board of Correction denied a petition to adopt rules regulating the use of solitary confinement in jails, also known as “punitive segregation,” and decided to appoint a committee to study the practice- delaying a decision until its September meeting.

On April 9th, the NYC Jails Coalition submitted a petition to the Board of Correction asking the Board to adopt rules regarding the use of solitary confinement. The proposed rules would’ve implemented the following:

§ Prohibit DOC from placing people with mental and physical disabilities, juveniles, and young people in isolated confinement;

§ Limit the reasons for which a person can be placed in isolated confinement so that it is only used as a last resort to prevent violent conduct;

§ And increase the amount of daily out-of-cell time for those placed in isolated confinement.

At its May 13th meeting, the Board, which has oversight authority to adopt rules, postponed voting on the petition and the proposed rules until June 3rd. Today, the Board denied rulemaking.

The DOC routinely places people in solitary confinement in response to a variety of infractions. Contrary to the national trend toward reducing the harmful use of isolation in jails and prisons, the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) expanded its punitive segregation capacity 27% in 2011, and another 44% percent in 2012. This expansion has left NYC with one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country. In fact, the DOC has more punitive segregation cells than it did in the 1990s, when it housed many thousands more people than it does today.

“We are extremely disappointed with the Board of Correction’s vote to deny the petition for rulemaking on solitary confinement and further delay a decision on the practice. Isolating a person in a cell for up to 24 hours a day without any mental stimulation or human contact causes serious psychological and developmental harm. Yet the Department of Correction is currently incarcerating at least 1000 people, including teenagers and people with mental and physical disabilities, in these conditions,” said Jennifer Parish, Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project, and member of JAC. “It is critical for the Board to adopt rules curtailing the use of solitary confinement. We hope that the Board will initiate rule-making at its September meeting.”

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