Facts

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN NEW YORK: THE FACTS

Solitary and Other Forms of Isolated Confinement Are Inhumane, Counterproductive, and Unsafe.

  • People in isolated confinement in NY State spend 22 to 24 hours a day locked in a cell the size of an elevator, alone or with one other person.
  • They may be permitted one hour to exercise alone in a cage; they do not receive any meaningful programs or therapy, and cannot make phone calls.
  • The sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to intense suffering and severe psychological damage.
  • Isolated confinement fails to address the underlying causes of problematic behavior, and often exacerbates that behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.
  • Nearly 2,000 people in New York are released directly from extreme isolation to the streets each year; they receive no educational, vocational or rehabilitative programming, and no transitional services to help them prepare for their return to society, increasing rates of recidivism.
  • Isolated confinement serves no legitimate purpose; states that reduced their use of isolation in prisons by up to 75% saw significant decreases in prison violence.

People are Regularly Held in Isolation in NYS for Periods of Time that Amount to Torture.

  • Most people sent to isolation in New York State prisons spend months or years there; some individuals have been in solitary confinement in New York’s prisons for more than two decades.
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced solitary confinement exceeding 15 days.
  • New York currently places no limit on the time in isolated confinement.

There Are Far Too Many People in Isolation, Disproportionately People of Color.

  • On any given day, about 4,000 men, women, and children are in isolated confinement in New York State prisons; thousands of others are in solitary in local city and county jails.
  • Black people represent about 18% of all people in NYS, but represent 50% of those incarcerated in NYS, and 60% of people held in solitary confinement.
  • Five out of six sentences that result in isolated confinement in NYS are for non-violent conduct.

Even Particularly Vulnerable People are Held in Isolated Confinement.

  • Children or people with mental illness are disproportionately likely to be put in isolation.
  • Pregnant women, elderly people, and people with severe physical disabilities are held in isolation in NYS; members of the LGBTI community have also suffered additional staff abuse by being placed in solitary confinement.

Processes Are Arbitrary and Unfair, with Insufficiently Trained Staff, and Little Accountability.

  • Corrections officers are not sufficiently trained to address people’s needs or problematic behavior; as a result, the default response is to write a disciplinary ticket for an alleged rule violation.
  • Hearings by DOCCS employees to adjudicate disciplinary tickets that result in isolated confinement are arbitrary and unfair: 95% of people charged with a rule violation are found guilty.
  • These processes occur within the closed prison system, with little public reporting by DOCCS.

 

Sources: New York Civil Liberties Union, “Boxed In”: www.boxedinny.org; Correctional Association of New York, www.correctionalassociation.org; Solitary Watch, www.solitarywatch.com.

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