NEWS: Activists Come to Albany to Reform Solitary Confinement

By Paul Grondahl. Reprinted from the Albany Times-Union.

lob albanyAlbany, May 4: More than 100 prisoner advocates will lobby legislators Monday to end long-term solitary confinement in the state.

The daylong effort will include family members of inmates kept for months and years in solitary, which advocates consider cruel and unusual punishment. Studies have found the practice of extended punitive isolation can contribute to depression, mental illness and suicide attempts.

The group calls itself New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, and they’re attempting to advance a bill introduced by Democrats in the Senate and Assembly that would create alternative housing for prisoners who have been in solitary longer than 15 days — a limit recommended by a United Nations report on torture. Their legislative visits will focus on Republican lawmakers.

Currently, there are about 3,800 inmates held in solitary confinement in state prisons and hundreds more in solitary in county jails around the state each day. In state prisons, they are fed through door slots in their cells and for one hour in each 24-hour cycle, a door leading to a caged-in balcony is unlocked so they can get fresh air.

“Solitary confinement is both inhumane and counterproductive,” said Scott Paltrowitz, associate director of the prisoner visiting project of the Correctional Association of New York. “We believe this bill creates more-effective alternatives that will make prisons and our communities safer.”

Corrections officials have long defended the use of using solitary confinement as an effective tool to control prisoners and improve safety for correction officers.

The bill would restrict how solitary confinement can be used and eliminate nonviolent conduct such as refusing to obey an order or substance abuse infractions. It would reserve solitary for physical violence, escape attempts and other serious crimes. The bill also would prohibit vulnerable prisoners such as the elderly and mentally ill from being placed in solitary confinement.

In addition, a component of the legislation would require periodic reporting from an outside entity.

“It’s very difficult now to get any information from the state on who’s in solitary and how long they’ve been there,” Paltrowitz said. “We want to bring transparency and accountability to the process.”

The lobbying day follows a February victory by prisoner advocates who were successful in winning a legal settlement that limits the state’s use of solitary confinement among inmates who are developmentally disabled, younger than 18 or pregnant.

NEWS: New York Lawmakers Introduce Bill to End Long-Term Solitary Confinement

NY State Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry speaks at a press conference announcing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Photo: Bernadette Evangelista

NY State Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry speaks at a press conference announcing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Photo: Bernadette Evangelista

By Jean Casella. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

“I’m here in a steel coffin,” Jessica Casanova’s nephew wrote to her from an isolation cell. “I’m breathing, but I’m dead.” Her nephew, she said, “has never been the same” after spending time in solitary confinement, and his experience compelled her to speak out for the thousands held in extreme isolation in New York’s prison and jails.

Casanova was one of half a dozen speakers at a press conference held on Friday to announce the introduction of a bill in the New York State legislature that would virtually end the use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement beyond 15 days. The bill, called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, aims to bring sweeping reform to a state where nearly 4,000 people are held in 22-to 24-hour isolation on any given day in more than 50 prisons, with at least a thousand more in solitary in local jails.

Activists from the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which hosted the press conference and worked with the sponsors to draft the bill, encouraged those arriving for the mid-morning event at Greenwich Village’s Judson Memorial Church to try samples of “the Loaf.” The dense, bread-like substance, made from flour, milk, yeast, grated potatoes and carrots, is served with a side of raw cabbage as an additional form of punishment for those held in solitary confinement in New York’s prisons.

Introducing the speakers, Claire Deroche of CAIC and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture called the bill “the most comprehensive and progressive legislative response to date to the nationwide problem of solitary confinement in our prisons and jails.” In addition to placing a 15-day limit on solitary, the bill would create new alternatives for those deemed a longer-term safety risk to others, replacing the punishment and deprivation of New York’s “Special Housing Units” (SHUs) with a more rehabilitation-minded approach.

The bill is being sponsored in the Assembly by Jeffrion Aubry (D, Queens), called solitary confinement “an issue whose time has come.” Aubry, who also sponsored the 2008 SHU Exclusion Law, which limited the use of solitary on individuals with serious mental illness, said it was time to set standards for treatment of all people in prison, regardless of their offenses. “I don’t believe that having committed a crime suspends your human rights” said Aubry. “That’s not the America I want to live in. That’s not the New York State I want to live in.”

The legislation’s Senate sponsor, Bill Perkins (D, Harlem) pointed out that solitary is increasingly being seen as a “moral issue” and a “crime against humanity.” The 15-day limit set by the bill conforms to recommendations made by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, but far surpasses restrictions currently placed on solitary in any American prison system. Perkins expressed his hope that the bill would find supporters in both bodies of the legislature, and that “the governor will work with us.”

New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who has supported measures to limit solitary confinement in city jails, described seeing a friend deteriorate after being placed in isolation on Rikers Island. The friend, whom Dromm described as “the gentlest person in the world,” was also “bipolar and drug addicted,” and was placed in solitary for five months for “cigarettes and talking back.” The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would ban the use of isolation altogether on vulnerable populations, including youth, the elderly, and people with mental or physical disabilities.

Five Mualimm-ak began his statement by telling listeners: “I lived five years of my life in a space the size of your bathroom.” Mualimm-ak, who said he never committed a violent act in prison, was given stints in solitary for offenses as minor as “wasting food” by “refusing to eat an apple.” The Department of Corrections “uses the rules for the purposes of abuse,” he said. “New York State should be a leader” when it comes to prison conditions, said Mualimm-ak, who has been out of prison for two years and is working against what he calls “solitary torture.” Instead, New York state prisons and city jails practice isolated confinement at levels well above the national average.

Wrapping up the event, Scott Paltrowitz of the Correctional Association of New York and CAIC outlined the major provisions of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. In addition to banning special populations from solitary and setting a 15-day limit for all others, Paltrowitz said, the bill would eliminate the use of isolation to punish minor offenses, such as “having too many postage stamps or talking back to a guard.”

The bill would also create secure “residential rehabilitation units (RRUs) for those who need to be separated because they pose a genuine danger to the general population. RRUs would be “aimed at providing additional programs, therapy, and support to address underlying needs and causes of behavior, with 6 hours per day of out-of-cell programming plus one hour of out-of-cell recreation.” The legislation, said Paltrowitz, “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.”

CAIC describes itself as joining together “advocates, formerly incarcerated persons, family members of currently incarcerated people, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State.” According to its website, the group considers solitary and all forms of prison isolation to be “ineffective, counterproductive, unsafe, and inhumane,” and cites evidence showing that solitary confinement increases recidivism while failing to reduce prison violence.

The legislation, drafted over the past year, is more ambitious and far-reaching than bills on solitary that have been introduced in other states. As a result, it is unlikely to pass in anything resembling its current form–but supporters are determined to push forward. “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, who helped draft the legislation. “The need for reform is well-documented and the time for change is now.”

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation.

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: