NEWS: New York City Officials and Advocates Push for Change to the “Culture of Brutality” on Rikers Island

By Savannah Crowley. Excerpted from Solitary Watch.

Update, 8/22/14:  On Thursday, August 21, the New York City Council passed legislation introduced by Councilman Danny Dromm of Queens that would require corrections officials to release quarterly reports documenting information about inmates being held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island jail. Presenting this information to the New York City Board of Corrections would create increased transparency and oversight concerning the jail’s use of punitive segregation. The legislation is now awaiting the signature of Mayor de Blasio, who has said he supports the bill.

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New York City advocates and public officials gathered on the steps of City Hall on Monday to demand an end to the “culture of brutality” emerging from New York City’s Rikers Island, the second biggest jail in the country. The demand followed recent reports released by the United States Department of Justice and the New York City Board of Corrections, as well as months of investigative reporting by the New York Times, exposing brutality, violence, and excessive use of solitary confinement by officers specifically against mentally ill and teenage inmates. One previously incarcerated advocate that spoke at the event described Rikers as “worse than Dante’s Inferno.”

At the press conference, organized by the New York City Jails Action Coalition, speakers expressed support for legislation introduced by Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens that would bring about much needed transparency and oversight to Rikers. The bill will be voted on this Thursday in the City Council. Speaking at the event, Dromm recounted his tour of Rikers saying, “I saw the horrible conditions inside of solitary people have to endure—a very small cell, the smell of urine, graffiti, a bed that was rusted, a mattress that had mildew on it, a blower of heat directly on top of the bed blowing down.” Strong criticism of Rikers Island has surfaced most recently after a series of exposes in the New York Times covering the staggering rise in violence at Rikers since 2009.

The Times managed to uncover an internal report conducted by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that documented, during an 11 month period, 129 cases of violence by corrections officers towards prisoners yielding injuries so serious they could not be treated at the jail’s clinic. Individuals incarcerated at Rikers suffered fractured jaws and eye sockets, wounds needing stitches, and severe back and head trauma. The report found that 77 percent of those seriously injured had a diagnosis of mental illness. Yet in not one of the 129 cases was a corrections officer prosecuted.  Over half of the 80 prisoners interviewed by health department staff admitted to being intimidated by officers during their treatment, making it easier for staff to cover up the violent episodes.

According to the same article, about 4,000 out of 11,000 people held at Rikers have a mental illness. This number is about 40 percent of the jail population, a 20 percent increase from eight years ago. Few corrections officers have received any in-depth training on how to deal with individuals with mental illness.

Criticism of policies at Rikers Island continued to rise after August 4, when the United States Department of Justice unveiled a secret three-year investigation of Rikers conducted from 2011 to 2013. The investigation concluded that there is a “deep seated culture of violence” at the jail and that the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) has violated the civil rights of adolescent males ages 16 to 18, by subjecting them to and not protecting them from excessive force and violence. For example, the report said, “In FY [Fiscal Year] 2013, there were 565 reported staff use of force incidents involving adolescents… (resulting in 1,057 injuries).”Teenagers at Rikers suffered extreme violence by officers including “…broken jaws, broken orbital bones, broken noses, long bone fractures, and lacerations requiring sutures.”

Read more here.

NEWS: Abuses at Rikers Island: Officials and Advocates Call for End to Solitary Confinement and Officer Violence

By Annie Wu. Excerpted from The Epoch Times.

For Johnny Perez, the horrors of being placed in solitary confinement still remain fresh in his memory. More than 15 years ago, when Perez was a young teen, he was placed in solitary confinement for 60 days at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island.

“It’s second by second, the attack on your soul,” Perez said, who now works as an advocate for the mentally ill at the Urban Justice Center.

Perez recalls having suicidal thoughts and crying so much that “you cry even when you run out of tears.” In addition, corrections officers often turned a blind eye to the violence that occurred among inmates.

“The abuses came out of pure neglect,” Perez said.

Perez was among the group of advocates and elected officials gathered at City Hall on Monday to call for an end to correction officers’ violence toward inmates and the excessive use of solitary confinement at Rikers Island, the city’s largest jail facility.

NEWS: Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail

By Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz. Excerpted from the New York Times.

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence…

Read the rest here.

NEWS: New York City Council Hearing Probes Jail Violence, Mental Health Care

By Jake Pearson, Associated Press. Reprinted from ABC News.

New York City lawmakers peppered correction and health officials with questions about how to reduce violence and better care for a growing mentally ill inmate population in the nation’s second-largest jail system during a specially called oversight hearing Thursday.

In three hours of testimony, the commissioners for the departments of correction and health and mental hygiene detailed both the bureaucratic inner-workings of how their two agencies, tasked respectively with both the custody and health care of roughly 11,000 daily inmates, interact now — and what they can do better to reform a jail system advocates, lawmakers and even the department of correction commissioner himself have called troubled.

“These long-term trends, years in the making, are clearly unacceptable, and reversing them is my top priority,” Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who started running the $1 billion agency in April, said of the violence. “But as a correction professional with 40 years’ experience, I must assure you that the process will not be quick. And it will not be easy.”

Their testimony comes following reports by The Associated Press detailing two grisly deaths of inmates with psychological problems on Rikers Island.

DOC statistics show that between 2010 and 2013, use-of-force incidents have increased by 59 percent, from 1,871 to 2,977; slashing and stabbing incidents doubled, from 34 to 58; and assaults on staff jumped by 30 percent, from 500 to 646.

At the same time, the number of inmates with a mental health diagnoses has soared as the jail population has declined, accounting for about 24 percent of the nearly 14,000 inmates in 2007 to about 40 percent of mentally ill inmates today, according to the statistics. Officials estimate that about a third of those inmates suffer from serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Mayor Bill de Blasio last week appointed a task force charged with rethinking how the criminal justice system treats the mentally ill.

Lawmakers argued Thursday the challenges facing reform at Rikers are vast, and include not just safety and mental health measures, but also new facilities, more security staff and bail reform.

Mary Bassett, the department of health and mental hygiene’s commissioner, told lawmakers that mental health and violence in the jails are intertwined. She said correction officers and mental health workers have already begun to discuss certain inmates’ behavior at the end of every tour, being mindful of medical privacy laws, so as to better recognize potential problems before it’s too late.

Officials have started to reform 19 so-called mental observation units, where the recent deaths of two inmates with psychological problems occurred, she said.

Those deaths, reported by The Associated Press, called for top-down change, said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

The AP was first to report on suspicions of a mentally ill former Marine’s February death inside a 101-degree cell. A city official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP then that Jerome Murdough “basically baked to death.” His family, who said the veteran suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, plans to file a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit.

Last month, the AP detailed the September 2013 death of 39-year-old inmate Bradley Ballard, whose family said was diagnosed with schizophrenia who died after sexually mutilating himself while locked up alone for seven days. His death was recently ruled a homicide.

Prosecutors are investigating both deaths.

New York University psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, who authored a report last year that was critical of the department’s then approach to using solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates, said Thursday the hearing was an encouraging sign that the city was taking the issue seriously.

“I think this is a move toward greater transparency in what’s going on at Rikers Island both with the problems and with the reforms,” he said.

NEWS: Treating Humans Worse Than Animals: Solitary Confinement in New York Featured on “Democracy Now!”

Reprinted from Democracy Now!

Following the death of two prisoners at New York City’s Rikers Island facility, we look at mounting pressure on jails and prisons to reform their use of solitary confinement. A corrections officer was arrested last week and charged with violating the civil rights of Jason Echevarria, a mentally ill Rikers prisoner who died after eating a packet of detergent given to him when his cell was flooded with sewage. It was the first such arrest in more than a decade. Also last month, Jerome Murdough, a mentally ill homeless veteran, died in a Rikers solitary mental-observation unit where he was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes. An official told the Associated Press that Murdough “baked to death” after temperatures soared in his cell.

We hear from Echevarria’s father, Ramon, at a protest seeking justice for his son, and speak to former Rikers prisoner Five Mualimmak, who was held in solitary there. And we are joined by two guests from within the prison system calling for reform: Dr. James Gilligan, a psychiatrist who is helping reduce violence in prisons, and Lance Lowry, president of the Texas Correctional Employees, the union which represents Texas prison guards. Lowry is calling on the state to reduce the use of solitary confinement, including on death row. “Zookeepers are not allowed to keep zoo animals in the kind of housing that we put human beings in,” Dr. Gilligan says. “We have created the situation; it is called a self-fulfilling prophecy: We say these are animals, they are going to behave like animals, then we treat them so that they will.”

To watch the video segment or read the full transcript, click here.

NEWS: For Teens at Rikers Island, Solitary Confinement Pushes Mental Limits

By Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan. From the Center for Investigative Reporting.

NEW YORK – There’s not much inside “the box.” Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There’s a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through.

Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat.

Ismael Nazario’s longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells in his unit, but he couldn’t. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell.

Read full article here

 

VOICES: Doing “Bing Time”: Memories of a Mental Health Worker in Rikers Island’s Solitary Confinement Unit

A cell in Rikers Island's Central Punitive Segregation Unit.

A cell in Rikers Island’s Central Punitive Segregation Unit.

Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

The following post is a chapter from an unpublished book by Mary Buser, who worked in various capacities in the mental health system on Rikers Island. In Buser’s own words: “I worked in the Rikers Mental Health Department as a psychiatric social worker for five and a half years, leaving Rikers in 2000. I started off as a student intern in the island’s sole women’s jail…[and] returned to Rikers to work in a maximum security men’s jail…[then] was promoted to assistant chief of Mental Health in another jail, where I supervised treatment to the island’s most severely mentally ill inmates. From there, I was transferred to my fourth and final jail, which was connected to the “Central Punitive Segregation Unit,” aka, the Bing. Here, I supervised a mental health team in treating inmates held in solitary confinement–determining whether or not someone warranted a temporary reprieve based on the likelihood of a completed suicide. Although I had become disillusioned with the criminal justice system, the Bing was my Rikers undoing. The final section of my manuscript is focused on my daily trips to the Bing, the inmates who occupied these cells, and my struggle to justify doing this work.” Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in the episodes Buser describes.

As jails have come to replace psychiatric hospitals as repositories for people with mental illness, Rikers become one of the nation’s largest inpatient mental health centers (second only to the L.A. County Jail). A disproportionate number of these psychiatrically disabled individuals end up in solitary confinement, doing “Bing time” for rule infractions precipitated by their illness. Buser’s account of her time overseeing treatment in “the Bing” is of particular interest now, when years of activism by the Jails Action Coalition and two scathing reports commissioned by the New York City Board of Correction have finally spurred efforts to reduce the use of solitary and improve mental health treatment on Rikers. These efforts have thusfar yielded at best mixed results. –James Ridgeway

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

At the end of a long cinderblock corridor, a guard in an elevated booth passes the time with a paperback book.  Across from the booth, a barred gate cordons off a dim passageway.  Along the passageway wall are the words:  CENTRAL PUNITIVE SEGREGATION UNIT.

The guard looks up as I approach, and nods.  As acting chief of “Mental Health,” I’m a regular over here at the “Bing” – an unlikely nickname for this five-story tower of nothing but solitary cells — 100 of them on each floor.  Designed for Rikers Island’s most recalcitrant inmates, the occupants of these cells have been pulled out of general population for fighting, weapons possession, disobeying orders, assault on staff.  The guards refer to them as “the baddest of the bad” – “the worst of the worst.”  I’m not so sure about that.

The guard throws a switch and the barred gate shudders and starts opening.  Around a bend, I step into an elevator car.  Since the problem inmate is on the third floor, I hold up three fingers to a corner camera, waiting to be spotted on a TV monitor.  This is no ordinary elevator — no buttons to push here, likely engineered for some security purpose.  The sweaty little box starts lifting, and as the muffled wails of the punished echo through, my stomach tightens — the way it does every time I’m called over here, which is often.  Solitary confinement is punishment taken to the extreme, inducing the bleakest of depression, plunging despair, and terrifying hallucinations.  The Mental Health Department looms large in a solitary unit – doling out anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and mountains of sleeping pills.  If these inmates had no mental health issues before they entered solitary, they do now.  But even the most potent medications reach only so far, and when they can no longer hold a person’s psyche together – when human behavior deteriorates into frantic scenes of self-mutilation and makeshift nooses – we’re called to a cell door.

The elevator rattles open on the third floor.  Ahead, a foreboding window separates two plain doors, each one leading onto a 50-cell wing.  Behind the window, correctional staff hover over paperwork.  A logbook is thrust out, I sign it, and point to the door on the left, ‘3 South.’  When the knob buzzes, I pull the door open and step into what feels like a furnace.  A long cement floor is lined with gray steel doors that face each other – twenty-five on one side, twenty-five on the other.  Each door has a small window at the top, and on the bottom, a flap for food trays.

At the far end, Dr. Diaz and Pete Majors are waiting for me.  I hesitate for a moment, dreading the walk through the gauntlet of misery.  The smell of vomit and feces hangs in the hot, thick air.  Bracing myself, I start past the doors, trying to stay focused on my colleagues.  Still, I can see their faces – dark-skinned, young – pressed up against the cell windows, eyes wild with panic.  “Miss! Help!  Please, Miss!!”  They bang and slap the doors, sweaty palms sliding down the windows.  “We’re dying in here, Miss – we’re dying!”  Resisting my natural instinct to rush to their aid, I keep going, reminding myself that there’s a reason they’re in here – that they’ve done something to warrant this punishment.  The guards, themselves sweat-soaked and agitated, amble from cell to cell, pounding the doors with their fists, spinning around and kicking them with boot heels — “SHUT—THE  FUCK– UPPP!!

[Read more…]

NEWS: As New York City Jails Amend Their Solitary Confinement Practices, Abuses on Rikers Island Continue

rikers demo 1By Aviva Stahl. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

In early January the Wall Street Journal reported that the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) had ceased using solitary confinement as a form of punishment for people with mental illness. The last of the Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates (MHAUII) units was shuttered on December 31, replaced by a two-tiered system said to improve treatment. The step was hailed a significant achievement for outgoing DOC City Commissioner Dora Schriro, whose department came under fire this past fall after two reports lambasted the DOC for violating its own standards in its treatment of the mentally ill.

However, a meeting on Tuesday morning of the Board of Correction (BOC), an independent body that monitors the City’s jail system, presented a far different picture of conditions for individuals with mental illness on Rikers Island – as well as a different version of how changes in the DOC’s solitary confinement policies have come about.

Just after 8 am on Tuesday, in the chilly morning rain, activists from the advocacy group Jails Action Coalition (JAC) stood on the sidewalk outside the municipal office building on Worth Street where the BOC was scheduled to meet. They were holding a vigil for the four individuals who have died in City jails in the past three months, carrying tombstone-shaped posters reading “RIKERS=DEATH” beside a makeshift alter with four candles, and singing and chanting to the people passing by.

Leah, a longtime JAC activist, explained that she had braved the weather for the sake of her godson, who has a psychiatric disability and is currently incarcerated on Rikers Island. She was waiting to see whether the recent changes made by the DOC would actually have an impact on the people inside. As she explained, sometimes the DOC enacts new policies to appease the citizenry “but really, it’s the same old thing.”

At just past nine o’clock the vigil participants passed through security and joined the BOC meeting on the third floor. The bulk of time was dedicated to discussing the quality of care at the recently developed Restrictive Housing Units (RHU) and Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation (CAPS) program, the facilities meant to replace MHAUII. According to DOC protocol, individuals who violate prison rules will now be sent to one of the two units: the RHU for those who are deemed less severely ill, who will still spend time in solitary but have access to therapeutic services; and the CAPS unit, modeled after a psychiatric hospital, for those with more serious illnesses.

According to the WSJ article, prison advocates were somewhat critical of the proposed changes after they were announced, calling the RHU model “far too punitive” and expressing concerns that individuals with mental illness might be placed in CAPS regardless of whether they broke the rules. The Board’s initial discussion seemed to support many of their concerns.

BOC members shared the details of their first site visit, on December 5, to the newly opened RHU at Rose M Singer Center (RMSC), the main women’s jail on Rikers. According to the Honorable Bryanne Hamill, a former New York Family Court judge,  Board staff asked for assistance from a nearby corrections officer when one woman – who had smeared feces on the window of her cell – failed to respond to their knocks. The CO opened the food slot in the cell’s solid steel door and shined light inside, but was still unable to ascertain if the occupant was conscious.

At the prodding of BOC members, the CO summoned four captains – but it was not until the Board notified Commissioner Schriro that the door was eventually unlocked. The woman was found unresponsive on the floor under the bed with a ligature wrapped around her neck. By the time the woman was taken out of her cell by medical staff, nearly an hour had passed since the visitors had first arrived at her door. Judge Hamill added that she spoke to another prisoner who told her that the unresponsive woman had been threatening suicide; Hamill reassured her that the woman had been found alive.

BOC member Dr Robert L. Cohen, a key player in efforts to reform solitary on Rikers, also participated in site visits. Cohen stressed that neither the COs nor the leadership in NYC’s prisons seemed prepared for the task at hand.  Although the RHU program at Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC) technically opened on December 19th, Cohen reported that the jail’s warden was “not aware that there was an RHU at OBCC” when Cohen spoke to her on January 3. Cohen also emphasized his concern that the DOC has no plan to identify and train officers and captain staff who are willing to work in the units on a regular basis.

Both Dr. Cohen and Judge Hamill expressed disappointment that access to therapeutic programming in the RHU had so far been almost non-existent. They did, however, have some praise for the new mental health programs established at the DOC, noting that they were greatly impressed with the ongoing quality of care in the CAPS units.

At the end of the meeting, Jennifer Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project and a member of JAC, spoke about her own visit to the RHU at RMSC, which occurred just days after the BOC’s.  One woman held in the unit relayed to Parish what had happened after she told the BOC member (presumably Judge Hamill) that the woman found unconscious had been threatening suicide. After the Board members left the prison, she said, a CO approached her cell to tell her, “there won’t be any food for you.” Parish expressed frustration that this kind of retaliation of could go on even when BOC was involved.

Commissioner Schriro’s voice cracked with emotion as the meeting came to a close. Schriro, who is leaving the DOC to take a job in Connecticut, has been broadly praised for the recent changes in DOC policy, and commented to the press that her department was “proud to have met this significant milestone.”  In truth, however, solitary confinement increased significantly under Schriro’s tenure. In 2011 alone the number of punitive segregation cells at Rikers grew by 45 percent,  and by the time the  BOC-commissioned reports were released this past fall, New York City had one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) pressed particularly hard for the increase in punitive bed space, attributing a spike in attacks on COs to the backlog of prisoners waiting to serve time in “the Bing,” as solitary confinement on Rikers is called. At a November 2011 City Council meeting, Schriro was grilled by City Council member Elizabeth Crowley about the problem.  Schriro reassured her that capacity was being expanded as quickly as possible: ” Every bed that can be converted is being converted.”

Community groups maintain that the DOC only considered adopting new policies as a result of the press fall-out from the BOC-commissioned reports – and that the reports were, in turn, ordered as a result of the campaigning of JAC and other advocates. Those same factors, along with pressure from a few BOC members, led the Board in September to vote to commence “rule-making” to eventually set new policies limiting the use of solitary in City jails.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last for Commissioner Schriro, but her legacy is not the only thing in flux. Mayor Bill DeBlasio has yet announce to his appointment to the post of DOC commissioner, and there are mixed signals as to whether he will live up to the progressive image he cultivated during his campaign.

Last Friday at Brooklyn College, DeBlasio emceed the graduation for the DOC’s newest recruits, telling them: “You’re protecting all of us….You’re protecting each other. You have each other’s backs. And you’re also protecting some people who have made mistakes.” He continued, “We’re not happy with some of the choices those individuals made, but they’re still our fellow citizens, and we’re hopefully in the process of helping them back to a better path.”

Yet there are some red flags to suggest substantial prison reform isn’t on DeBlasio’s agenda. Bill Bratton, the mayor’s appointment for police commissioner, has pursued racially discriminatory policing policies in the past.  Moreover, during his campaign DeBlasio was endorsed by COBA – a worrying sign for advocates, given that the role the union played in increasing the use of solitary and their resistance to adopting alternative solutions.

For Sarah Kerr, a staff attorney in the Prisoners’ Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society, the BOC’s experiences on the tour reveal the deeply protracted nature of the problems within the DOC.  She wondered aloud what it means that it took an hour for the woman’s cell door to be opened, even when BOC members were present.  She added that challenging this institutional culture will be an “incredibly hard” task for the DOC, but that doing so is absolutely necessary if things are to change.

For Daisy Rodriguez, another member of JAC, these changes cannot come quickly enough. Her 21-year-old son has been in solitary confinement in New York’s jails for the past 18 months.  She told the audience at the meeting, “We want our families to obtain the services they need rather than be treated like animals.”

NEWS: Bill Aims to Reduce Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails

By Josey Bartlett. Excerpted from the Queens Chronicle.

Rikers-Island-contrabandAbout 12 years ago Five Omar Mualimmak — who says his unique numerical name is the subject of a whole other article — was arrested on drug trafficking, possession of an illegal weapon, money laundering and tax evasion charges and sent to Rikers Island. Those charges were changed and dropped and then a few reissued, Mualimmak, 38, said, keeping him in the system for 11 years.

Once he was put in prison, a fight landed the Bronx man in solitary confinement.

“I got stabbed at Rikers,” Mualimmak said. “If you are a victim, it’s not where they care about you. Five people were involved in the fight and everyone was going to the box.”

This was just his introduction to solitary.

More brawls kept him there — 23 hours of time spent in a room where the light never turns off, and one hour, “maybe,” spent outside — for about five years. A family member sent him a book that the prison deemed an organizing device, Mualimmak said, and he was given more time in solitary.

“Mathematically it’s impossible to bring everyone outside,” he said. “It’s torturous. The yard is like a dog pen. Have you seen a dog kennel? It’s like that.

“To go out you have to be at your gate fully dressed for the rec run.

“Then they strip search you in your cell. Take off all your clothes, then from there you are cuffed, shackled around your waist, cuffed around the ankle, brought to another room where there are dogs and you are stripped again, then cuffed, shackled, cuffed.”…

The inside 23 hours of solitary confinement are spent pacing, sleeping — about half the time he slept, something much different from his current insomniac life — writing, drawing and reading — Mualimmak was allowed 10 books a month, which “ran like water” — and just spent being bored.

He watched other prisoners hold open the cell flap where food would come in, just for human interaction. That infraction broke solitary confinement rules and was penalized with more time in the box.

“You just have to have some sort of emotional breakdown and emotional outbreaks are treated with more solitary,” he said.

Since being released last year he can’t sleep for days at time; he’s paranoid, angry and antisocial.

“What has affected me is not only just about sleeping right or having nightmares or having my sleeping patterns totally messed up, which all happens, but it’s about socializing. I just don’t any more,” Mualimmak said. “In the box all you have is your memories. Your brain contorts that, then you start to expound upon that and it leaves you with this distant thought of that memory.”

Now outside of prison, he has a difficult time living beyond those thoughts.

Read the rest at the Queens Chronicle.

 

NEWS: Rally Against Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails

By Stephon Johnson. Excerpted from the New York Amsterdam News.

photoOn Tuesday morning, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm introduced two new bills addressing the issue of solitary confinement in New York City jails. Joined by advocates from the Jails Action Coalition and parents of people currently incarcerated, the group called on the Board of Correction to adopt rules regulating the use of solitary confinement.

“I agree with the experts that [say] solitary confinement should rarely, if ever, be used,” stated Dromm. “When I toured Rikers Island last year, I saw the conditions under which inmates are exposed. It is not a surprise that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has highlighted the inefficacy and inhumanity of solitary confinement and called for its end.”

The first bill requires comprehensive reporting of data on “punitive segregation,” as the Department of Correction (DOC) refers to solitary confinement. The second bill is a resolution calling for the end to the practice of placing individuals returning to jail into punitive segregation to complete time owed from the previous period of incarceration.

The DOC expanded its punitive segregation capacity 27 percent in 2011 and 44 percent in 2012. New York City currently has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in history, and the DOC has more punitive segregation cells than it did in the 1990s.

Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project, called punitive segregation a threat due to the damage it inflicts on inmates…

Read the rest of the article here.

 

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