Solitary Confinement

Imagine living in a space the size of a bathroom, for months or years, without the ability to leave or go outside for 23 or 24 hours a day. The sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness imposed by such conditions can lead to intense suffering and severe psychological debilitation, even in healthy, well-functioning adults. For people suffering from mental illness, the consequences can be even more devastating.

Whether called disciplinary segregation, special housing units (“SHU”), supermaxes, the hole, or the box, isolated confinement is a common practice in prisons across the country. Although some states have significantly reduced the use of isolation in recent years, New York continues to impose disciplinary confinement at rates more than double the national average.

Isolation is routinely used, not primarily to address chronically violent behavior or serious security or safety concerns, but often in response to non-violent or relatively minor prison rule violations, or even as retaliation for questioning authority, talking back to an officer, or filing grievances. Moreover, people often continue to accumulate SHU time while in disciplinary confinement, resulting in long-term isolation, sometimes lasting a decade or more.

Since its inception and particularly in recent decades, the CA has reported on the use and conditions of solitary confinement, advocating for more humane alternatives. The CA believes that rather than using ineffective and inhumane punitive responses to rule violations, facilities should instead provide treatment and programs that address the underlying causes of individual behavior, such as substance abuse or mental illness. The CA’s investigations into the conditions of isolation in New York prisons inform its collaboration with coalitions comprised of families of those subjected to isolation, their communities, and other advocates to limit and reform the use of disciplinary confinement.

For example, after years of in-depth reporting, and advocacy as a member of Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement Coalition (MHASC), the CA was instrumental in the passage of the “SHU Exclusion Law,” which took effect in 2011 and requires that people with severe mental illness be diverted from isolation to special residential mental health treatment units. The CA continues to push for drastic reductions in the use and length of isolation for all people, improved conditions of confinement, and alternative responses, treatment, and programs.

 

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News | October 4, 2013

Working to end torture in New York

PHOTO: Tyrrell Muhammad sitting with hands folded on panel.

At any given moment in New York’s prisons, more than 4,000 men, women, and children are held in solitary confinement. Another 1,000 people are in solitary in New York City jails. CA staff members Scott Paltrowitz and Tyrrell Muhammad are leading our efforts to end what the United Nations calls torture — solitary confinement.Read More

News | August 1, 2013

In support of the California hunger strike

Solitary is torture

The Correctional Association stands in solidarity with and supports the leadership of the 30,000 people incarcerated in Pelican Bay and other California prisons.Read More

News | July 31, 2013

Wednesday, July 31: NYC rally to end solitary confinement

Come stand in support of the thousands on hunger strike in Pelican Bay and other California prisons and to end the torture of solitary confinement in New York's own prisons and jails.Read More

News | April 2, 2013

Join us for a special screening of Herman’s House

Herman's House flyer

Join experts on solitary confinement at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY on April 16. Read More

News | March 19, 2013

Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to meet in NYC on March 27

The March 27 CAIC meeting will focus on legislative work, and is open to all who wish to attend.Read More

News | March 14, 2013

Correctional Association Joins Campaign to Challenge Solitary Confinement

The CA has joined with dozens of organizations to launch the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC).Read More

News | February 7, 2013

Bureau of Prisons to assess solitary confinement practices

The first-ever review of federal segregation policies comes after Senator Dick Durbin chaired a hearing last year on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement.Read More

News | December 13, 2012

Shining our spotlight on: Auburn Correctional Facility

Image of man being showered to death at Auburn Prison

The prison is the namesake of the “Auburn System,” a form of incarceration in which people worked in groups during the day, were housed in solitary confinement at night and lived in total silence. Read More

News | October 18, 2012

Panel on Solitary Confinement and Youth in Adult Prisons

Jack Beck will join expert panelists in the field of criminal justice to discuss the use of solitary confinement for youth in adult prisons in New York.Read More

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News | October 1, 2012

Isolated Confinement: The Facts

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What is the human impact of isolated confinement? Who is in isolated confinement? How often is the practiced used? Read More

CA in the Press | February 5, 2014

Reforming solitary confinement with proposed Assembly bill

On Saturday, Jan. 31, a group of concerned activists met at the Ithaca Friends Meeting House on Third Street to discuss this and other problems associated with the use of solitary confinement in New York’s prisons and jails. Read More

Press Release | January 29, 2014

NY Lawmakers, Advocates, and Survivors of Solitary Confinement Join to Announce Introduction of New Bill to Limit Use of Solitary in Prisons and Jails

Just introduced in the New York State Assembly (A08588) and Senate (S06466), the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. 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. Read More

Press Release | December 6, 2013

Human Rights Day Vigils Will Challenge the Torture of Solitary Confinement in New York

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Representatives of human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations will join formerly incarcerated people and family members of those in solitary confinement at several vigils across the state, to protest the routine use of extreme and prolonged isolation in New York's state prisons and city jails.Read More

CA in the Press | August 15, 2013

New York Promised Help for Mentally Ill Inmates – But Still Sticks Many in Solitary

ProPublica

In New York, inmates diagnosed with “serious” disorders should be protected from solitary confinement. But since that policy began, the number of inmates diagnosed with such disorders has dropped.Read More

CA in the Press | July 18, 2013

Teens Suffer Solitary Confinement in NY State Prisons

After young people get out of prison, the lasting psychological damage is compounded by the harm of a criminal record.Read More

CA in the Press | April 25, 2013

No peace outside ‘The Box’

Jeff Rockefeller. 
Photo by Paul Grondahl, Albany Times Union

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.Read More

Press Release | March 14, 2013

New York Groups Unite in Call for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Jails

Dozens of organizations joined together today to challenge the torturous abuse of solitary confinement in prisons and jails across New York.Read More

| November 11, 2012

Q&A: Prison expert Soffiyah Elijah on reducing prison costs, drug-related crimes

Soffiyah Elijah

Soffiyah Elijah, 57, is the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. The first woman and first person of color to head the 170-year-old organization, she lives in Park Slope with her parents and the elder of her two sons.Read More

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CA in the Press | October 16, 2012

Editorial: NY right to review solitary confinement

The department should publish the results of its review and cut the use of solitary as far as possible.Read More

CA in the Press | September 20, 2012

What Kind of House Does an Imprisoned Man Dream About?

The film Herman’s House begins with the sounds metal doors slamming and an aging man’s phone-muffled voice describing his surroundings. “I can only make about four steps forward before I touch the door, and if I turn in an about face at any place in this cell I’m going to bump into something. I’m in a cell for 23 hours a day. I’m used to it and that’s one of the bad things about it.”Read More

Prison Monitoring Reports

Auburn Correctional Facility

Auburn was the first prison to implement the “Auburn System,” a system of incarceration in which incarcerated people worked in groups during the day, were housed in solitary cells during the night, and lived in enforced silence. Today, Auburn Correctional Facility operates as a maximum security, DOCCS-operated prison for men ages 21 and older.Read More

Testimonies

Reassessing Solitary Confinement

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In June of 2012, the Correctional Association submitted written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights about New York State’s use of solitary confinement. Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Fall 2011

In this issue; Gov. Cuomo announces prison closures; Reflecting back at the 40th anniversary of the Attica rebellion; CA calls for the closure of notorious prisonRead More

Fact Sheets

Substance Abuse Treatment in New York Prisons

Effective in-prison treatment programs go beyond the recovery of individual participants to enhance the quality of life within a prison and improve public health and safety outside its walls.Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Spring 2008

In this issue; Prison report on healthcare; Laura Davidson honored; WIPP premieres "Strength of a Woman"Read More

Fact Sheets

States that Provide Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

Throughout the country, a growing number of states now prohibit housing inmates with mental illness in solitary confinement. Read More

Reports & Research

Addressing Key Criminal Justice Issues in the 21st Century

This special report presents some of the Correctional Association's top reform proposals for the state's administration to consider, as well as the benefits they could provide for both the communities most heavily impacted by incarceration and for society as a whole.Read More

Testimonies

Testimony on Mental Illness and SHUs

Testimony by Jennifer Wynn, Director, Prison Visiting Project At the Correctional Association of New York on Special Housing Units before the Corrections Committees of the New York State Assembly. Ms. Wynn addresses today the dire need for more humane housing and treatment for the nearly 1,000 inmates with mental illness who are currently confined in 23-hour disciplinary lockdown in New York State prisons. Her testimony is based on findings from a recently completed two-year research study that examined the quality of mental health care in New York prisons and involved site visits to 23 correctional facilities by project staff and outside psychiatrists.Read More

Reports & Research

Lockdown New York: Disciplinary Confinement in New York State Prisons

The findings from Correctional Association visits to nearly every disciplinary housing unit in New York – 49 visits to 26 lockdown units – reveal a disturbing picture characterized by emotional and physical distress, a reliance on warehousing instead of treatment, high rates of mental illness, suicide and self-mutilation, low staff moral and unsafe working conditions for prison guards and administrative staff.Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Fall 2003

In this issue; Michael’s Story: How the Juvenile Justice System Fails New York City’s Youth; Lockdown New York; Inhumanity Behind Bars: The case against incarcerating the mentally ill is bolstered by a state watchdog group’s reportRead More