NEWS: New York Advocates Offer Testimony to Assembly Hearings on Mental Health in Prisons and Jails

Several key supporters of CAIC presented or submitted testimony to the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Corrections and Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, which held a joint hearing on “Public Hearing on Mental Illness in Correctional Settings” in Albany on November 13, 2014. A collection of testimony appears below, and will be permanently archived on the Resources page.

Correctional Association of New York

Disability Rights New York

Incarcerated Nation Corp.

Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

NAMI – NYS

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

New York City Jails Action Coalition

Urban Justice Center

For more on the hearing, see the following news accounts:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/ny-lawmakers-probe-care-mentally-ill-inmates-26878665

http://m.timesunion.com/local/article/Learning-to-treat-prisoners-with-signs-of-mental-5891924.php

 

EVENTS: NY CAIC Organizes Lobby Day for HALT Solitary Confinement Act: May 5 in Albany

lobby day flyer

NEWS: New York Lawmakers Introduce Sweeping Reforms to Use of Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Jails

Press release from the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. January 31, 10:30 am

New York — At a mid-morning press conference at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, New York legislators will join advocates, survivors of solitary confinement, and their families to announce the introduction of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A08588 / S06466).

Introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate, the pioneering bill is being hailed by supporters as the most comprehensive and progressive legislative response to date to the nationwide problem of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. As written, it would virtually eliminate a practice that has been increasingly denounced as both dangerous and torturous, while protecting the safety of incarcerated individuals and corrections officers.

According to Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly, “New York State was a leader for the country in passing the 2008 SHU Exclusion Law, which keeps people with the most severe mental health needs out of solitary confinement. Now we must show the way forward again, ensuring that we provide safe, humane and effective alternatives to solitary for all people.”

“Solitary confinement makes people suffer without making our prisons safer. It is counter-productive as well as cruel,” said Senator Bill Perkins, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “Solitary harms not only those who endure it, but families, communities, and corrections staff as well.”

Currently, about 3,800 people are in Special Housing Units, or SHUs, with many more in other forms of isolated confinement in New York’s State prisons on any given day, held for 23 to 24 hours a day in cells smaller than the average parking space, alone or with one other person. More than 800 are in solitary confinement in New York City jails, along with hundreds more in local jails across the state.

New York isolates imprisoned people at levels well above the national average, and uses solitary to punish minor disciplinary violations. Five out of six sentences that result in placement in New York State’s SHUs are for non-violent conduct. Individuals are sent to the SHU on the word of prison staff, and may remain there for months, years, or even decades.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act bans extreme isolation beyond 15 days–the limit advocated by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez, among others. It also bars vulnerable populations from being placed in solitary at all–including youth, the elderly, pregnant women, LGBTI individuals, and those with physical or mental disabilities.

“No person should be put in solitary confinement except when they are a risk to  someone else,” said New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm. “As a major opponent of the practice, I have introduced three pieces of legislation into the City Council. I applaud the proposed state legislation that sets parameters on who can and who cannot be placed in solitary confinement and limits the amount of time they are forced to stay there.”

For those who present a serious threat to prison safety and need to be separated from the general population for longer periods of time, the legislation creates new Residential Rehabilitation Units (RRUs)–high-security units with substantial out-of-cell time, and programs aimed at addressing the underlying causes of behavioral problems.

“Isolation does not promote positive change in people; it only damages them,” said Jennifer J. Parish of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project. “By requiring treatment and programs for people who are separated from the prison population for serious misconduct, the legislation requires Corrections to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment and degradation.”

“The HALT Solitary Confinement Act recognizes that we need a fundamental transformation of how our public institutions address people’s needs and behaviors, both in our prisons and in our communities,” said Scott Paltrowitz of the Correctional Association of New York. “Rather than inhumane and ineffective punishment, deprivation, and isolation, HALT would provide people with greater support, programs, and treatment to help them thrive, and in turn make our prisons and our communities safer.”

Many of those represented at the press conference are members of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which was instrumental in drafting the bill. CAIC unites advocates, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State with formerly incarcerated people and family members of currently incarcerated people.

“Solitary is torture on both sides of the prison walls,” said family member Donna Sorge-Ruiz, whose fiancé is currently in solitary. “Loved ones on the outside suffer right along with those in prison, every day that they endure this pain. It must stop!”

The widespread use of long-term solitary confinement has been under fire in recent years, in the face of increasing evidence that sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to severe psychological damage. Supporters of the bill also say that isolated confinement fails to address the underlying causes of problematic behavior, and often exacerbates that behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.

In New York each year, nearly 2,000 people are released directly from extreme isolation to the streets, a practice that has been shown to increase recidivism rates.

“The damage done by solitary confinement is deep and permanent,” said solitary survivor Five Mualimm-ak. An activist with CAIC and the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Mualimm-ak spent five years in isolated confinement despite never having committed a violent act in prison. “Having humane alternatives will spare thousands of people the pain and suffering that extreme isolation causes–and the scars that they carry with them back into our communities.”

Several state prisons systems, including Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, have significantly reduced the number of people they hold in solitary confinement, and have seen prison violence decrease as well. HALT takes reform a step further by also providing alternatives for the relatively small number of individuals who need to be separated from the general population for more than a few weeks. Advocates see the bill not only as a major step toward humane and evidence-based prison policies, but also as a model for change across the country.

“Article 5 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,’” said Laura Markle Downton of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “As people of faith, we recognize the use of solitary confinement in a prisons, jails and detention centers fundamentally violates this prohibition against torture. Now is the time for New York to lead the way in bringing an end to this human rights abuse plaguing our justice system nationally.”

“The HALT Solitary Confinement Act implements rational humane alternatives to the costly, ineffective, and abusive use of long-term solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails,” said Sarah Kerr of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. “The need for reform is well-documented and the time for change is now.”

PRESS CONFERENCE DETAILS:

 

Date/Time/ Location: Friday, January 31, 10:30 am

Judson Memorial Church, Meeting Room Balcony

55 Washington Square South (between Thompson and Sullivan Streets)

Speakers:

Assembly Member Jeffrion L. Aubry (D, 35th District, Queens), Assembly sponsor

Senator Bill Perkins (D, 30th District, Harlem), Senate sponsor

City Council Member Daniel Dromm (D, 25th District, Queens)

Five Mualimm-ak, survivor of solitary confinement in New York prisons and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Jessica Casanova, aunt of individual currently in solitary and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Scott Paltrowitz, Correctional Association of New York and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Claire Deroche, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

 

PRESS KIT INCLUDES:

Press Release

Fact Sheet on Solitary Confinement in New York State

Summary of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act

Full Text of HALT Act (A08588 / S06466)

New York Voices from Solitary Confinement

“Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars,” op-ed by Five Mualimm-ak

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Scott Paltrowitz, 212-254-5700, spaltrowitz@correctionalassociation.org

Sarah Kerr, 212-577-3530, SKerr@legal-aid.org

Five Mualimm-ak, 646-294-8331, endthenewjimcrow@gmail.com

www.nycaic.org

#  #  #

EVENTS: Lawmakers, Advocates, and Solitary Survivors Join to Announce Legislation to Limit Solitary Confinement in New York’s Prisons and Jails

MEDIA ADVISORY: PRESS CONFERENCE

 WHEN: Friday, January 31, 10:30 am

WHERE: Judson Memorial Church, Meeting Room Balcony

55 Washington Square South (between Thompson and Sullivan Streets)

 WHO:

Assembly Member Jeffrion L. Aubry (D, 35th District, Queens), Assembly sponsor

Senator Bill Perkins (D, 30th District, Harlem), Senate sponsor

City Council Member Daniel Dromm (D, 25th District, Queens)

Five Mualimm-ak, survivor of solitary confinement in New York prisons

Jessica Casanova, aunt of man in solitary confinement

Scott Paltrowitz, Correctional Association of New York and Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Claire Deroche, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Campaign for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

WHAT:

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act.

Just introduced in the New York State Assembly (A08588) and Senate (S06466), this pioneering bill is being hailed by supporters as the most comprehensive and progressive legislative response to date to the nationwide problem of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. As written, it would virtually eliminate a practice that has been increasingly denounced as both dangerous and torturous, while protecting the safety of incarcerated individuals and corrections staff. More than 5,000 people are currently being held in solitary and other forms of isolated confinement in New York’s state prisons and local jails.

 On hand and available for interview will be the bill’s Assembly and Senate sponsors and other legislators, along with individuals who have personally experienced solitary confinement, family members of those currently in solitary, and advocates from the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, which was instrumental in drafting the bill.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Scott Paltrowitz, 212-254-5700, spaltrowitz@correctionalassociation.org

Sarah Kerr, 212-577-3530, SKerr@legal-aid.org

Five Mualimm-ak, 646-294-8331, endthenewjimcrow@gmail.com

EVENTS: Human Rights Day Vigils Will Challenge the Torture of Solitary Confinement in New York

Press release from the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, December 6, 2013.

jac demo big 1NEW YORK — Representatives of human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations will join formerly incarcerated people and family members of those in solitary confinement at several vigils across the state, to protest the routine use of extreme and prolonged isolation in New York’s state prisons and city jails.

The largest vigil, which is part of a longer event highlighting current human rights issues in New York, will take place on Human Rights Day, Tuesday, December 10, from 4 – 5 pm in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square, within sight of several courthouses and detention centers.

Billed as a “Teach-in and Speak-out,” the vigil will feature advocates from the Campaign for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (CAIC), including individuals who have been directly affected by the use of solitary confinement. The vigil will conclude with the words of people currently in solitary, read by representatives of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

“We want New Yorkers to recognize that there are serious human rights violations going on in their own backyards,” said Five Omar Mualimm-ak of the American Friends Service Committee, a survivor of five years in solitary confinement in New York state prisons and an organizer of the vigil.  “By depriving people of all human contact, solitary confinement causes extreme anguish and permanent psychological damage,” Mualimm-ak continued. “That’s why it has been widely denounced as torture.”

On Long Island, a Human Rights Day vigil will be held on Saturday, December 14, at 12 noon at the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow, also featuring religious leaders, activists, survivors, and family members.  “We know that our children or spouses can be sent to these houses of torture for the slightest infraction,” said Barbara Allan of Long Island’s Prison Families Anonymous. “We know the consequences, and we worry about how this will affect them upon release.”

In Upstate New York, the site of most of the state’s 62 prisons, opponents of solitary will gather for a vigil in Ithaca on Sunday, December 8, at 2 pm in front of Tompkins County Library. The vigil will be followed by a write-a-thon to incarcerated individuals at Tompkins County Workers’ Center, with Amnesty International. The Ithaca Prisoner Justice Network is also holding a letter writing campaign in three local Episcopal churches to urge policy-makers to take action to end isolated confinement.

A vigil will also be held on December 10 at St Lawrence University in Canton. A group of students will spend the day inside chalk outlines of 7 x10-foot cells to call attention to the use of solitary in New York.

According to CAIC, New York’s prison and jails use solitary and other forms of isolated confinement far too broadly and routinely, and for periods of time, namely months and years, that far exceed the 15 day-limit recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. New York holds people in 23-hour-a-day isolation at rates significantly above the national average. On any given day, there are at least 4,000 people, disproportionately people of color, in New York State prisons who are in special housing units (SHU) and thousands more locked down in their own cells. In addition, approximately 1,000 people in New York City jails are held in isolation.

Solitary confinement often causes deep and permanent psychological, physical, and social harm for those who endure it, and can have even more dire consequences for the many incarcerated individuals with pre-existing mental health needs or disabilities, and for youth. Prolonged isolation has been shown to be counterproductive as well as inhumane, since it can increase both prison violence and recidivism levels.

“We need a fundamental transformation of how corrections officials understand and respond to problematic behavior,” says Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center, a CAIC member group that helped to spearhead the rallies around the state. “We no longer can allow ineffective, inhumane responses that exacerbate the problems; we want safe, humane, and effective responses that fit in line with our fundamental human values and make things safer for our prisons and our communities.”

Solitary confinement in New York’s state prisons has been challenged not only by advocates, but by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez. In March of 2013, Méndez wrote to the U.S. government, seeking information about the practice of extreme isolation and solitary confinement in New York State prisons and the welfare of three individuals subjected to this treatment.

This week, CAIC sent letters to both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, urging them to provide the requested information, and to facilitate Mr. Méndez’s access to conduct fact-finding visits to New York prisons and jails. “With Human Rights Day approaching,” the letter reads, “we join in calling on you to take these steps to honor the humanity and dignity of New Yorkers suffering the torture of solitary confinement.”

Survivors of solitary confinement and families of those currently in isolation are available for interview in New York City and on Long Island.

For more information, please contact:

Megan Crowe-Rothstein, 646-602-5665 megan@urbanjustice.org

Five Mualimm-ak, 646-294-8331, endthenewjimcrow@gmail.com.

Scott Paltrowitz, 212-254-5700 spaltrowitz@correctionalassociation.org

EVENTS: Today in NYC! Rally in Solidarity with California Prison Hunger Strikers

As part of an International Day of Action, members of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, New York City Jails Action Coalition, and concerned community members will rally this afternoon to End Torture in the United States. We will voice our support for the hundreds of individuals still on hunger strike against solitary confinement in California prisons, and press for an end to prolonged isolation in New York’s prisons and jails.

When: Wednesday, July 31, 4:30 to 6:30 pm

Where: 163 West 125th Street (at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.), in front of the New York State Office Building

  • Bring a poster!
  • Bring friends!
  • Print out the following handout and share it with people in your community: flyer CA NY
  •  Read the full 5 Demands at http://prisoner​hungerstrikesol​idarity.wordpre​ss.com/the-pris​oners-demands-2​/.
  • Call California Governor Jerry Brown at (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, or (510) 628-0202 to demand that he negotiate seriously with the strike leaders.
  • Visit this website to learn how you can help: www.prisonerhun​gerstrikesolida​rity.wordpress.​com.
  • Hang a sign out a visible window stating you are in solidarity with the Hunger Strike and the days of the strike. Today, Tuesday 7/30 is Day 23!
  • Join the New York City Jails Action Coalition www.nycjac.org and the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement www.nycaic.org to fight to end torture in our own state!

flyer CA NY

NEWS & EVENTS: Board of Correction to Vote on Solitary Reform in New York City Jails

The following is an open letter from the NYC Jails Action Coalition regarding the upcoming vote by the New York City Board of Correction, the body that oversees city jails, on a proposal from JAC that would bring significant reform to solitary confinement practices. Click here for an earlier story on this subject.

Dear Supporters:

Thank you again for urging the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) to adopt rules regarding the use of solitary confinement in the NYC jails. The BOC discussed the Jails Action Coalition (JAC) petition at their May 13, 2013 meeting but delayed making a decision until a specially scheduled meeting now set for June 3, 2013.

On June 3, the BOC will decide between the following:  1) commence rule-making (including consideration of the proposal provided by JAC and any alternatives); 2) reject the JAC petition as premature and appoint a committee to study the issue of use of solitary confinement in the jails; or 3) reject the petition and take no further action.

Please urge the BOC to commence rule-making:

►Send a letter expressing your support for rule-making. (See the attached model letter, which can be sent directly to the Board and/or returned to us for delivery to the Board Members.)

►Attend the BOC meeting at 9 a.m. on June 3.

► Join JAC’s rally before the meeting at 8:15 a.m. at 1 Centre Street.  (See below for all the details.)

[Read more…]

EVENTS: New York Advocates Participate in Premiere of HERMAN’S HOUSE

hhThe injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in HERMAN’S HOUSE, a feature documentary that follows the unlikely friendship between a New York artist and one of America’s most famous inmates as they collaborate on an acclaimed art  project.

HERMAN’S HOUSE makes its New York premiere this weekend. (Buy tickets here.) CAIC members will be there to speak and answer questions, along with the film’s director, after the following screenings:

Friday, April 19, 7:00 PM (SOLD OUT!)
Moderator: Anna Sale, WNYC Reporter
Speaker: Taylor Pendergrass, Senior Staff Attorney, New York Civil Liberties Union
Speaker: Jackie Summell, Artist, Activist Featured in Film
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Friday, April 19, 9:15 PM
Speaker: Five, Mualimm-AK, NYC Jails Action Coalition
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Saturday, April 20, 7:00 PM
Moderator: King Downing, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
Speaker: Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Saturday, April 20, 9:15 PM
Speaker: Jean Casella, Editor, SolitaryWatch.com
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House

Sunday, April 21, 3:00 PM
Speaker: Angad Bhalla, Director of Herman’s House
Speaker: Representatives from Metro NY Religious Campaign Against Torture

[Read more…]

EVENTS: Jails Action Coalition Urges New Yorkers to “Raise Your Voice Against Solitary Confinement in NYC Jails”

rikers wireTwo upcoming events hosted by the Jails Action Coalition (JAC) give New Yorker’s the opportunity to speak out against the use of solitary confinement in New York City’s jails.

On any given day, over 1,000 of the approximately 12,300 people held on Rikers Island and in other city jails are in solitary confinement. Even as other prison and jail systems are reducing their use of solitary, the number of isolation cells has increased 44 percent in the past two years. Those held in isolation include children under 18 and people with serious mental illness.

On Thursday, April 4, JAC will host a rally outside the monthly meeting of the New York City Board of Correction, the body that oversees city jails. The rally will take place at noon at New York City Hall, 250 Broadway; the BOC meeting, which is open to the public, follows at 1:00 pm on the 16th floor.

On Tuesday, April 9, at 11 am, JAC will hold a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hal, 260 Broadway. The group will call on the Board of Corrections to adopt changes to the minimum standards regulating conditions of confinement in the city’s jails. These new standards would severely restrict the use of solitary confinement. Organizations and individuals wishing to endorse the call for new minimum standards should immediately contact Susan Goodwillie at SGoodwillie@urbanjustice.org.

In addition, concerned members of the public are invited to attend the next meeting of JAC, on Thursday, April 4, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the offices of the American Friends Service Committee, 15 Rutherford Place between 15th and 16th Streets, New York, NY. (For more information call Dilcio at (646)602-5666 or email nycjailsactioncoalition@gmail.com.) People are also invited to join one of JAC’s working committees.

 

 

EVENTS: Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to Meet in NYC on March 27

The newly formed Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement will meet on Wednesday, March 27, from 6:30-8:00 pm, at the Correctional Association of New York, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue) between 124th and 125th Streets, Suite 200 (2nd floor). For more information contact caicny@gmail.com.

This working meeting, which will focus on legislative work, is open to all. Formerly incarcerated persons and family members of the currently incarcerated are especially encouraged to attend, as are advocates, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York City and New York State.

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