Press Release from the Jails Action Coalition.
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.”
“The Board of Correction’s decision not to regulate solitary confinement ignores current studies which recognize that isolated confinement and sensory deprivation cause depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and an impaired ability to think, concentrate, and remember. This is no environment for a child age 16 – or any human being in this great City of New York – to be contained for 23 hours a day for months on end. As an example to the world, we should be better than this,” said Five, Omar Mualimmak, civil rights advocate and organizer, and member of JAC.
Studies have shown the devastating impact on the mental health of people who have endured solitary confinement, even for relatively brief periods. Many of these individuals already have substance abuse and mental health issues that are exacerbated by being placed in punitive segregation without social contact; others develop such issues after experiencing solitary confinement.
“Solitary confinement harms people. Disciplinary hearings should be fair and impartial. We don’t need a study to demonstrate these basic truths. The Board of Correction should exercise its oversight by ending arbitrary and harmful punishments inside Rikers Island,” said Richard Sawyer, J.D., JAC member.
“The NYC DOC utilization of harmful and damaging isolation in punitive segregation is inhumane and violates standards of decency,” said Sarah Kerr, Staff Attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society, and member of JAC. “The Board of Correction’s decision not to initiate the rulemaking process means that the damaging effects of isolation continue in our jails.”
A 35-year-old man who was in solitary confinement (also known as “the box”) in the city jails described his experience as follows: “The box is too much. It’s cruel. If you don’t have a family in the street, you can get messed up. There are people in here who can’t read and don’t have any family to visit them. They go crazy. They’re the ones banging on the walls. But the box is not fit for humans in any mental state. The officers should let some people who are on good behavior at least have radios. Not everyone is bad in here. I’ve been in seven months and I’ve not been in trouble. That should count for something.”
Members of the City Council have expressed support for the Board to adopt rules governing the use of solitary confinement. Council Members Daniel Dromm, Margaret Chin, Annabel Palma, Jumaane D. Williams, Charles Barron, Gale Brewer, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez, and Debi Rose have called on the Board to act.
Moreover, the Committees on International Human Rights and on Corrections & Community Reentry of the New York City Bar Association have also urged the Board to initiate rulemaking- citing the “profound public importance of the use of isolated confinement and the critical nature of the use of isolated confinement in New York City.”
ABOUT THE NEW YORK CITY JAILS ACTION COALITION:
The New York City Jails Action Coalition is a grassroots collection of activists, including formerly and currently incarcerated people, family members and other community members, working to promote human rights, dignity and safety for people in New York City jails. Our goals include: Increasing transparency in Department of Correction (DOC) policies in NYC jails and accountability for DOC practices and abuses; ending the use of solitary confinement (punitive segregation, SHU, the Box, the Bing) in NYC jails and opposing the DOC’s planned increase in punitive segregation cells; addressing the medical and mental health needs of people in NYC jails and ensuring access to continuing care in the community upon release; advocating for more rehabilitative services in NYC jails to promote reintegration; and fighting against the racist and discriminatory policies leading to mass incarceration.
Contact: Raymond Rodriguez, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (O): 646-200-5309, (C): 305-992-1809, firstname.lastname@example.org