NEWS: No Peace Outside “The Box” for People with Mental Illness in New York’s Prisons

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

atuJeff  Rockefeller never got past the eighth grade growing up in Troy. He spent his  20s in the Capital  District Psychiatric Center and has struggled with severe depression and  suicidal thoughts.

“He’s never had a day of peace in his life,” his mother said.

Now 44 years old and released from state prison five months ago, Rockefeller  spent nearly 20 months, half his 40-month incarceration, in solitary  confinement. Even as a free man, he still struggles with sleeplessness,  nightmares and crying fits. “I was locked up in a cage like an animal,” he said.  “It’s torture.”

“He’s different since he got out,” said his girlfriend, Mary, a 66-year-old  retired state worker who asked to be identified only by her first name. “He  can’t sleep. He’s jumpy. He’s having a hard time easing back into his former  life. Nobody should be treated the way he was.”

She recalled his anguished letters from prison, writing that he couldn’t take  it anymore and wanted to end his life. In phone calls from prison, he broke down  in sobs.

Rockefeller’s psychiatric problems — which helped land him in “The  Box” and worsened during his long months in 23-hour-a-day disciplinary  isolation — symbolize a form of punitive incarceration that prisoner advocates  call inhuman. Correction officials defend it as an effective method to control  unruly inmates.

Prison watchdog groups said Rockefeller’s prison experience is a sad but not  uncommon saga. On any given day, about 4,500 inmates are in solitary confinement  in New York’s prisons, according to the state Department  of Corrections and Community Services. There are currently 8,197 mentally  ill inmates out of a total prison population of 54,643. Three of the 14  prisoners who committed suicide in 2012 were in solitary confinement, according  to DOCCS records.

Prison suicides between 2001 and 2010 rose 186 percent to the highest level  in 28 years, according to the Correctional  Association of New York State, a watchdog group.

Prisoners in solitary are confined to cells 6 feet by 8 feet, with almost no  human contact. One hour per day, in newer prisons, a caged balcony is unlocked  remotely so inmates can breathe fresh air. Lights and shower are controlled  remotely. Meals are pushed through a slot in a reinforced cell door. Inmates  experience intense sensory deprivation in these so-called Special Housing Units,  or SHUs…

Read the full article for quotations from Jack Beck and Jennifer Parish and references to CAIC!

VOICES: Disciplined Into Madness and Death

By Sara Rodrigues. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

bedford hillsThe following essay comes from Sara Rodrigues, formerly a prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women in Westchester, New York, and now further upstate at Albion. When Sara was sent to prison at the age of 16, she found her friend D there as well. Both Sara and D had life-long struggles with mental health, and while in prison, spent long periods of time in solitary confinement (both Keeplock, which is lockdown in one’s own cell, and SHU, which is the Special Housing Unit).

Sara writes about the difficulty D faced when she was finally released and put on parole, with no transitional assistance to move from prison to the free world. She ultimately ended up back in prison and committed suicide, shortly after giving birth to a baby girl. Sara Rodrigues wrote this piece in the hope of spreading awareness of her situation and the experience of many people around her. She writes, “Too many inmates in New York State under the age of 25 are killing themselves in prisons because they are literally being thrown away like garbage by the court systems.”

Thanks to Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center for forwarding this essay to Solitary Watch. — Rachel M. Cohen, Solitary Watch

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

This essay is dedicated to D and all those who have given their minds and/or lives trying to pay their debt to society and to those who will forever be haunted and scarred from our justice system. Once self-worth and hope dies within our souls, what is left behind is a shell of life that can see no future, no redemption and no chance for a normal life. It is then that our minds realize how truly unwanted we are and how on a daily basis we are reminded that society has no use for us. Day by day life becomes very dark, some lose their minds, some will never be the same, and some just give in and take their own lives.

[Read more…]

NEWS: “Sick and in Solitary” on Rikers Island

By Maura R. O’Connor. Excerpted from The New York World.

rikers1Last summer, a 25-year-old robbery suspect at Rikers Island took a ball of concentrated soap meant to clean his jail cell and swallowed it. Jason Echeverria had been held for two months inside the Department of Correction’s Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, where the confined typically spend 23 hours a day on lockdown. By swallowing the soap, Echeverria hoped to spring himself from his confinement; instead, for 20 minutes a corrections supervisor ignored his condition as he became violently sick and eventually died from the poisoning. The city’s medical examiner has found that the lack of immediate medical treatment constituted a homicide.

While Echeverria was being held in punitive segregation, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro was assuring the city’s Board of Correction, which monitors her agency, that a long-awaited blueprint for dealing with the growing ranks of mentally ill at Rikers was nearing completion.

[Read more…]

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