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: Roundup of National News on Solitary Confinement, January/February 2014

Compiled by Fran Geteles-Shapiro.

February 26
Former Guantánamo detainees, with the support of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), have urged a French judge to subpoena Geoffrey D. Miller, a former Guantánamo Commander to explain his role in the torture and other serious mistreatment of former detainees.  They argue that Miller implemented techniques designed to “soften up” detainees, including sleep deprivation, extended isolation, forcing detainees to stand or crouch in “stress positions,” stripping detainees and exposure to extremes of heat and cold.

February 25
During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for an end to the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and those with serious and persistent mental illness. He also urged further reform of the detention practice so the United States can protect human rights, and improve public safety.

According to reports from inside ADX in Florence, CO, eight to nine people held in the super-secret H-Unit are on hunger strike and are being force-fed.  One of the men, who’s been isolated for more than 10 years, since he wrote a letter to an imprisoned Muslim man in Spain, has filed a civil action that challenges his extreme confinement on the grounds that it violates his constitutional right to due process. He also claims the FBI is heavily involved in managing H-Unit, with its authority overriding that of BOP administrative staff even though by law the FBI is not authorized to run prisons in the U.S.

February 20
Rick Raemisch the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections spent one day and night in solitary confinement.  He describes his reactions and his new commitment to reform.  But, while recognizing his sincerity, critics have also raised questions about whether the reforms he has already made are truly meaningful citing the facts that: 1) there is a problem with a very narrow definition of mental illness; 2) adequate care and treatment have not been provided; and, 3) people in the CO prisons with mental illness are still spending almost all their time alone in their cells, even though they are now in “treatment” units.

Russell Maroon Shoatz, now 70-years-old, was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at a State Correctional Institution in PA, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. He had been placed in solitary due to his work with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers to abolish life-without-parole sentences. In 2013 he sued on the grounds that his placement and treatment in solitary confinement was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Both national and international advocates had fought for his release.

February 19
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York State Department of Community Corrections (DOCCS) announced an unprecedented agreement to negotiate reforms to the way solitary confinement is used in New York State’s prisons. The state will take immediate steps to remove youth, pregnant women and developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged people from extreme isolation. The state will also adopt sentencing guidelines and set maximum limits on isolation-sentence lengths – both for the first time.  A man who was formerly held in solitary and was a plaintiff in the lawsuit which led to this agreement said, “This agreement has the potential to change DOCCS’ focus to treatment, not just punishment, so some good will come of our time in prison.”

A panel of scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s recent meeting discussed some possible neurological factors behind the devastating psychological impacts of solitary confinement: 1) because proper functioning of the brain depends on daily sun exposure, the denial of access to sunlight interrupts circadian rhythms which can lead to depression; and 2) the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, geographic orientation, cognition and decision-making has been shown to shrink in the brains of people who are depressed or stressed for extended periods. The researchers note that these potential sources of damage would seem to make people who are in prison less equipped to re-enter society, and thus policies supporting them are unwise as well as inhumane.

February 16
A new Intensive Mental Health Unit has been opened at the Maine State Prison which includes 32 beds with a staff of about 16 people. The new unit will provide programs, including recreational therapy, music therapy and art therapy. And the focus will be on recovery.  It is hoped that improvements in the care of mentally ill people in the prison will result.  However advocates have pointed out that there are still too many people in the prisons who are not receiving timely mental health services.

February 12
Suicide is the most common cause of death in U.S. jails. A comprehensive study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that individuals in New York City jails who are sent to solitary confinement are nearly seven times more likely to try to hurt or kill themselves than those never assigned to solitary. Youth diagnosed with serious mental illness accounted for the majority of the self-harm acts.  And many hurt themselves in an effort to avoid time in solitary.–Solitary-Confinement-Self-Harm/#.Uxdvw85gjVY

February 11
The Bureau of Prisons has established a “High Security Mental Health Step-Down Unit” at the penitentiary in Atlanta, GA. which is designed to provide substantial long-term care and treatment for high-security mentally ill incarcerated people.  The program is adequately staffed with mental health professionals – i.e. for the 20 men expected to be held there, there are two psychologists, a psychiatric nurse and at least two other mental health professionals and who are devoted entirely to the unit so the men have continuous access to them.

The State Senate Judiciary Committee of Kansas is considering legislation which would automatically confine individuals with a sentence of death or life without the possibility of parole to solitary confinement.  Supporters contend that segregating the worst and most dangerous incarcerated people would make it safer for the overall prison population.  But the Kansas Dept. of Corrections is objecting to the bill because it will be too costly and because it would create a dangerous environment for correctional officers.  A spokesperson for the ACLU also objected because of the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement.

A bill has been introduced in the CA assembly that would rein in the use of indefinite detention in solitary confinement in California prisons.  Under the bill, SHU terms for administrative reasons would be capped at 36 months.  And good behavior credits, which allow individuals to earn shortened terms for complying with prison rules, will be restored for people who are in SHU for administrative reasons.

February 10 
The man who killed the former Director of Corrections in CO following his release directly from solitary confinement had, prior to that killing, forced a pizza delivery driver who he also killed to record a confused and rambling statement that seemed to denounce prison officials for putting people such as himself into solitary.

February 6
A woman who was kept in a filthy, isolated New Mexico jail cell for months at a time, was often denied treatment for her mental illness, and was denied feminine hygiene products for lengthy stretches has reached a $1.6 million settlement with the county where she was held.  The settlement with also stops the county from holding people in a certain isolated cell for more than 48 hours.

After controversy over its use of solitary confinement, the Toledo Juvenile Home was closed by Ohio Gov.Branstad.But a Polk County judge has declared the closing unconstitutional and has ordered the facility re-opened.

February 4
Two former members of the Russian feminist rock band, Pussy Riot, who are touring the US after being released from a Russian prison spoke at a human rights concert organized by Amnesty International. In addition to calling on President Barack Obama to increase pressure on Russia over alleged human rights abuses there, they said they will also act for the rights of the incarcerated people in the United States. They plan to visit prisons and meet with nonprofit organizations to learn about the issue of solitary confinement in the U.S.

Incidents where corrections staff used force against individuals in the NYC jails have tripled between 2004 and 2013.  Meanwhile, prison officials downplay the number of traumatic injuries from these events and from internal fighting among the people held in the jails. They also downplay injuries requiring hospitalization – many of which they attribute to falls or work related injuries.  It is noted that the role of the excessive use of solitary confinement adds to the violence.

February 3
Opponents of efforts to reform the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons are worried that the violence at the jail facility on Rikers Island will get worse. They cite statistics that there were 73 stabbings and slashings in 2013, slightly up from the 71 in 2012 and a major spike from the 38 recorded in 2011.  They attribute the increase to gang wars within the jail and to mental health professionals having individuals released from solitary because of concern for their mental health. They also note that there are many people waiting to serve their punishments in solitary (“the bing”) because there are not enough available spots.

Maryland legislators introduced bills, calling for an independent third-party review of correctional facilities relatign to “isolated confinement” requiring access to facility data, and calling for recommendations on specified topics (including “diverting” youth and people with serious mental illness) after the study is completed. The preamble of the bill cites statistics on the harms and overuse of solitary confinement.

A report by John Marshall Law School includes accounts of the extreme isolation experienced by some individuals in immigration detention, and explores why a September 2013 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive falls short in protecting vulnerable detainees, especially those with mental or medical illnesses.  Recommendations call for greater enforcement of regulations, greater oversight and transparency, and special attention to the treatment of vulnerable populations.

The ACLU has released an online toolkit outlining how LGBTI advocates and directly affected individuals can leverage the Prison Rape Elimination ACT (PREA) to protect one of the most vulnerable populations in prison.

A new report by the Youth Justice Clinic of Cardoza Law School, RETHINKING RIKERS: MOVING FROM A CORRECTIONAL TO A THERAPUTIC MODEL FOR YOUTH argues that there should be a fundamental shift from a punitive to a therapeutic approach with practices that are specialized for and dedicated to youth rehabilitation, beginning with “the pressing need to eliminate the use of solitary confinement.”  The report notes that it does not work to reduce aggressive, violent, impulsive or disobedient behaviors.  Furthermore, among the detrimental effects of this practice they mention increased rates of recidivism.

Data provided in response to the Texas Civil Rights Project’s information request shows that, while the overall population in administrative segregation has decreased by 14% since 2011, the number of individuals with mental illness in administrative segregation has increased by 17%. They now make up 32% of the administrative segregation population.  This % change is due partly to the smaller population, but also to more mentally ill people being sent to solitary.  A bill requiring third party review of adult and juvenile administrative segregation practices and policies—passed in the 2013 legislative session with overwhelming support, has yet to be implemented.  Since lawmakers had increased resources for mental health services and expressed intent to prioritize mental health in both incarcerated and free populations, there appears to be a possible discrepancy between legislative intent and implementation.

A recently issued policy from the American Public Health Association concludes that:   1) patients whose medical or mental health conditions contraindicate placement in segregation should be categorically excluded from solitary confinement, as should juveniles; 2) correctional authorities should implement policies that eliminate solitary confinement for security purposes unless no other less restrictive option is available to manage a current, serious, and ongoing threat to the safety of others; and, 3) punitive segregation should be eliminated.

A recent position statement by the Society for Correctional Physicians acknowledges that prolonged segregation of incarcerated people with serious mental illness, with rare exceptions, violates basic tenets of mental health treatment.  Individuals in prison who are seriously mentally ill should be either excluded from prolonged segregation status or the conditions of their confinement should be modified in a manner that allows for adequate out-of-cell structured therapeutic activities and adequate time in an appropriately designed outdoor exercise area.

NEWS: Roundup of National News on Isolated Confinement, November/December 2013

Compiled by Fran Geteles-Shapiro

December 31, 2013
A teenager accused of masterminding a series of firebombs that went off in four New Jersey synagogues has spent the past two years in solitary confinement, holed up in a tiny, windowless cell waiting for trial, which is scheduled to begin in January. The boy and his family say he is not guilty.

December 30, 2013
An investigative team has found that more than three dozen men and women who were mentally ill and drug and alcohol-impaired have died in restraint chairs in county jails from Washington state to Florida.  They attribute this to the shift from hospital and clinic settings to county jails.

December 29
The new Executive Director of Colorado’s Dept. of Corrections promises changes and transparency, including: dramatic reduction in the numbers of people in AdSeg; reducing number of people released directly from AdSeg into the community; revised criteria for sending individuals to segregation; new approached to how staff respond to disruptive behavior; improved staff accountability; etc.

December 24
2012 U.S. District Court decision had ruled that the Colorado State Penitentiary violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by not providing outdoor recreation. Now, a second lawsuit has been filed, seeking class-action status to assure that that decision applies to all the imprisoned people not just the one original plaintiff.  Authorities say several options are under consideration to solve the recreation problem.

December 23
Democracy Now hosted a discussion about the growing number of aging people in prison in the United States who were convicted in the 1960s and 1970s because of their political actions.  Many are seeking compassionate release, clemency or a pardon, due to suffering from illness and/or decades in Solitary Confinement.

December 19
A federal judge will hear closing arguments over whether prolonged solitary confinement violates the rights of the mentally ill.  The same judge had previously decided that mentally ill individuals on death row lack proper care and that the Department of State Hospitals provides them with substandard treatment.

A judge has ruled that people on death row who are being incarcerated in unventilated cells and without access to cool water at Angola Prison are being subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” and that this violates their 8th Amendment Rights. He ordered prison officials to draw up an action plan to “reduce and maintain the heat index in the Angola death row teirs at or below 88 degrees.” Defendants have argued that this will be a financial hardship, but the judge responded that there “can never be an adequate justification for depriving any person of his constitutional rights.”

Organizers announced the launch of a new campaign that “aims to shed light on and end a pattern of human rights and civil liberties abuses in ‘War on Terror’ cases in the criminal justice system” including the extensive use of pre-trial and post-conviction solitary confinement. The campaign, called No Separate Justice, will be marked by an event on January 7 in New York City.

December 14
The U.S. Justice Department’s Inspector General (OIG) has issued its year-end report which for the first time includes the issue of prisons, and describes a “Growing Crisis in the Federal Prison System.” Among the issues raised are: failure to effectively address the “increasing number of elderly inmates” within the system; mismanagement of the “compassionate release” program; the need to address the mental health of the people it incarcerates and the impact of solitary confinement on those people.  Although the report does not give policy recommendations, the OIG does plan to monitor the effects of a GAO assessment of the use of solitary confinement.

December 13
Colorado Department of Corrections is now instructing staff that incarcerated people who are determined to have a major mental illness must be sent to a residential treatment program not to administrative segregation.  While praising this effort the ACLU points out that the definition of major mental illness adopted by CDOC is too narrow, with the result that “prisoners with moderate to severe psychiatric needs now constitute a majority of those in administrative segregation.”

December 12
The ACLU released a memo from the Colorado DOC announcing a new policy of excluding seriously mentally ill individuals from ad seg. Reforms had begun in January and had included the opening of a residential treatment program at Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City and the shut down of a prior program that treated mentally ill incarcerated people while they were held in solitary confinement. While praising this latest step, the ACLU continues to express concern about definitions of mental illness that are too narrow and the understaffing of the treatment program.

December 11-12
Prison policy prohibits sexual contact between staff and the people whom they guard, yet  in many women’s prisons, those who report rape and other forms of sexual assault by prison personnel are often sent to solitary confinement, as well as being harassed and physically abused or tortured, or being threatened with additional prison time.  The sexual predators are almost never punished.  Solitary Watch also reports increased numbers of women in solitary in some states and that it is a particular issue for women with mental who perform acts of self mutilation.

December 11
Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill incarcerated people spend in solitary confinement.  The state offered to limit the time severely mentally ill individuals who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. When that offer was accepted by the judge in the lawsuit on crowding, the extension was granted.,0,3111292.story#ixzz2nZjJB7km

In a sign-on letter, the Ohio ACLU notes that Ohio’s Juvenile Detention facilities haveone of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation and  that the children inside are also being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. They are asking the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to: formally declare that juveniles have a right to be free from sexual victimization while inside their detention facilities; and tban the extended seclusion/isolation of juveniles beyond 24 consecutive hours.

December 10
Federal prison officials have begun transferring mentally ill individuals from the Supermax prison in Florence to a prison in Atlanta following a lawsuit that accuses guards of ignoring severe symptoms, denying their existence, or simply making fun of self-destructive symptomatic behaviors.  The attorney handling the lawsuit says the transfer improves the situation, but points out that there are prisons in Missouri and Arizona that are better equipped to handle the needs of the mentally ill.

December 9
A group of men from Pennsylvania, who were held at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Dallas are due in court on charges that they sparked a riot in their unit in 2010 after they barricaded their cell doors and windows with bedding, forcing guards to forcibly remove them.  The men and their advocates claim they were simply staging a peaceful protest designed to draw attention to rampant abuses and deplorable conditions in the security housing unit — from food deprivation to medical neglect – and that the prison guards responded to the protest with horrific violence.  Advocates say the trial could become a crucible in the wider debate over solitary confinement.

A judge has awarded $1,200 to an imprisoned man for the excessive time he spent in solitary confinement at Marcy Correctional Facility. In his statement, the judge said that the state is “absolutely immune” from liability over prison disciplinary actions, but only if all rules and procedures are followed. In this case the hearing officer had improperly denied the man’s request to call a witness.

December 2013
Two British nationals pled guilty to supporting terrorists in Afghanistan through websites that sought to raise cash, recruit fighters and solicit items such as gas masks. The men had fought extradition to the US because of the treatment they would likely receive in prisons here — treatment which is illegal in Britain and the European Union.  But they lost that fight. Since extradition, they have been held in extreme isolation in a supermax prison in Connecticut, and after the guilty plea, will likely face more solitary confinement in the future.  One of the men has Asperger Syndrome; the other reported symptoms of PTSD after he had spent six years in high security prisons in the UK.

December 5
A 73-year-old grandmother suffering from thyroid cancer, heart problems and bi-polar disorder, who was kept in solitary confinement for 34 days in a New Mexico prison run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), is suing both the private prison company and Corizon, Inc, the privately run prison healthcare provider. Thelawsuit alleges that prison officials deliberately put her in solitary confinement because she complained that she and other women in the CCA facility were being denied necessary medical care.

December 4
An article in The Nation magazine reports that “hunger strikes are erupting around the world” especially among imprisoned people who fast to protest abuse, unjust imprisonment and inhumane conditions.  It notes that solitary confinement is often a critical issue, referring to hunger strikes in Israel, California and Guantanamo.  One horrible reaction to such strikes has been force feeding – implemented in Guantanamo and approved by judges in California.  On the other hand, some small gains are noted: release of some Palestinian hunger strikers in Israel; legislators promise to investigate conditions in CA prisons; and President Obama being forced to re-open the question of closing Guantanamo.,1

An article in The Nation magazine reports that “hunger strikes are erupting around the world” especially among imprisoned people who fast to protest abuse, unjust imprisonment and inhumane conditions.  It notes that solitary confinement is often a critical issue, referring to hunger strikes in Israel, California and Guantanamo.  One horrible reaction to such strikes has been force feeding – implemented in Guantanamo and approved by judges in California.  On the other hand, some small gains are noted: release of some Palestinian hunger strikers in Israel; legislators promise to investigate conditions in CA prisons; and President Obama being forced to re-open the question of closing Guantanamo.,1

November 20
The ACLU is offering a new tool produced by the Stop Solitary campaign, “Alone & Afraid” which is a briefer on the use of solitary confinement in youth facilities. It covers the law, standards, and science that you can use to argue against the practice. Also noted is their toolkit that covers solitary for kids in the adult system.

November 19
A powerful new report from Detention Watch Network, “Expose and Close One Year Later: The Absence of Accountability in Immigration Detention” reports that in 2012, 300 people on average were held in solitary confinement per day, 11 percent of whom had mental health issues.  New ICE guidelines are not in line with UN guidance or the standards in the proposed Senate immigration bill: they do not prohibit the use of solitary for individuals with mental illnesses; they do not set specific time limits for solitary; they continue to permit the use of solitary as a kind of “protective custody”; and do not provide for effective action against facilities that violate them.

In 1995, after a trial which exposed the appalling conditions at Pelican Bay, a federal court ordered all mentally ill individuals out of that prison’s security housing unit (SHU). But the decision did not apply to CA’s other prisons. Hearings have begun in a new case, Coleman v. Brown, aimed at getting all mentally ill people in California out of solitary confinement.

November 15
In many if not most states, individuals who have been sentenced to death are automatically placed in solitary confinement. However, a recent Virginia federal court decision holds that automatic and indefinite placement of a death-sentenced person in solitary is a deprivation of liberty without due process of law, and such individuals are entitled to a classification process similar to that used for non-capital incarcerated people.

November 6
Moazzam Begg, who spent 20 months in solitary confinement in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and was released without charge in Jan. 2005, describes his time in solitary: “I think I am a very sane, strong person but twice I lost control of my senses … I screamed and shouted and punched and kicked the walls and swore and cried.”

November 5
A report, entitled Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the “War on Terror,” written for The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations (OSF), by a task force of medical professionals, ethicists and legal experts, calls on President Obama to issue an executive order outlawing torture and other abusive techniques currently in use in the military’s Army Field Manual on interrogations and calls on the Department of Defense to rewrite the Army Field Manual in accordance with such an executive order.  Although the 2006 manual was touted as reforming “extreme interrogation” techniques and eliminating torture, it continues to permit the use of extreme isolation or “segregation,” for interrogation purposes, as part of its Fear Up and Ego Down techniques, aimed at producing both debility and dependency.


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