NEWS: Coalition of State Lawmakers Urges New York to End Solitary Confinement

On November 9, more than 40 New York State legislators signed a strongly worded letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci to end the use of extended solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and local jails. “[W]e respectfully urge you to end the torture of long-term segregated confinement and replace it with more humane and effective alternatives,” the lawmakers write.

The letter cites a devastating report published in September by Disability Rights New York, which found rampant neglect and abuse, including extreme and prolonged isolation, of individuals with mental illness at Attica Correctional Facility.

The letter refers to the “severe and lasting psychological, physical and social damage” caused by solitary, and to “the systemic way in which solitary confinement is disproportionately inflicted on Black people in our state prisons.” It concludes that “Our prisons are in crisis and our constituents and communities—to which the vast majority of incarcerated people eventually return—are suffering as a result.”

The legislators who signed the letter are all co-sponsors of the Humane Alternative to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, and cite the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement as its “grassroots partner” in working toward passage of the bill.

Until that happens, the lawmakers urge Cuomo and Annucci to voluntarily implement the HALT Act’s main provisions in the state prison system. “These provisions include prohibiting solitary confinement for especially vulnerable populations such as young people, the elderly, and people with mental illness and developmental disabilities; limiting solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days, or 20 days in any 60 day period, for all people; and ensuring that temporary separation in the interest of safety does not mean isolation by providing access to rehabilitative programs and meaningful human interaction.”

To read the full letter, click here.

You can also read the AP Story in the NY Daily News.

NEWS: New York State Corrections Commissioner Announces Retirement

fischer07bioThe Albany-based Capitol Confidential reported yesterday that Brian Fischer, commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, will retire at the end of next month. The report continues:

A Brooklyn native who has worked as a parole officer and ran Sing Sing prison, Fischer has held cabinet posts since his 2007 appointment by Eliot Spitzer. He supervised the merger of the Department of Correctional Services with the Division of Parole in 2011.

“Over the years I have seen many changes, including the ironic fact that when I came to the Department the Division of Parole was part of the agency, then it wasn’t, and now it is,” Fischer wrote in a memorandum to staff that was distributed Monday. “Together we have accomplished much, and I know that good things will continue to develop.”

No immediate word from Cuomo aides on who might be named to succeed Fischer.

Brian Fischer’s tenure as commissioner has seen a rising resistance to the widespread use of isolated confinement in New York’s state prisons. According to an article that ran last year in The Nation: “At a forum in January held by the New York State Bar Association…Fischer insisted that some segregation was necessary, but ‘I’ll be the first to admit—we overuse it.’ Even modest reductions, he said, would require that they ‘change the culture’ of corrections, including the stance of the correctional officers union. And, he added, ‘we can’t make changes without funding, without the legislature and the public.’”


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