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.
The New York Times in this editorial today is saying what we at the CA have been reporting on for decades: without any any transparency and accountability, the abuse of people who are incarcerated will persist and those who are responsible will still act with impunity. Until accountability is the norm and not the exception, the abuse -- and in some cases, loss of life -- will continue.Read More
Board of the Correctional Association of New York Appoints Carlton S. Mitchell Interim Executive Director
On September 22, 2016, the Board of Directors of the Correctional Association of New York announced the appointment of Carlton S. Mitchell as Interim Executive Director. He will start his duties in September 2016. Read More
As we mark 45 years since the 1971 Attica rebellion, conditions there remain as deplorable in 2016 as there were then. It is time for New York State to finally close Attica. I spent 26 years and 11 months in New York’s prisons from 1979 to 2005, and I was in Attica from 1982 to 1983. I witnessed the most horrific incidents of brutality and experienced it for myself inside Attica. Today I work for the Correctional Association of New York (CA) – a non-profit organization with legislative authority to monitor conditions in all NYS prisons -- so now I go back inside in order to expose the abuses. Based on what I experienced inside and what I see still happening today, it is clear that Attica will never change. Read More
Today’s article (8/26) in The New York Times, “Revisiting Attica Shows How New York Failed to Fulfill Promises,” provides even further justification for why New York must finally and permanently close Attica C.F. This September marks the 45th anniversary of the rebellion at Attica and its violent suppression by the State.Read More
CORRECTIONAL ASSN. OF NY RELEASES “VOICES OF CLINTON: FIRST-HAND ACCOUNTS OF BRUTALITY, TORTURE, AND COVER-UP FROM PEOPLE INCARCERATED AT AN INFAMOUSLY ABUSIVE NEW YORK STATE PRISON”
New York, NY (June 9, 2016): Today, a year after the 2015 escape of two men from Clinton Correctional Facility, the Correctional Association of New York, the oldest criminal justice reform organization in the state, released a new 36- page report on Clinton Correctional Facility, featuring first-person narratives from those incarcerated at the prison. The report, issued by the CA’s Prison Visiting Project, (PVP), is a scathing account of violence and abuse at the hands of prison guards – before and following the escape -- and reveals a culture of utter disregard for basic human rights and an atmosphere of cruelty, racism, and dehumanization that has been allowed to persist unabated, unchecked and unpunished.Read More
Lawmakers, Advocates, and Survivors of Solitary Confinement Back Legislation Limiting Use of Isolation in New York’s Prisons and Jails
(April 12, 2016, Albany, NY): The New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) held a press conference with lawmakers and survivors on Tuesday to advocate for legislation that would limit the use of solitary confinement and other forms of isolation in New York’s prisons and jails. The press conference was part of a full day of activities by over 200 people from across the state to draw attention to the torture of solitary confinement and to advocate passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A. 4401 / S. 2659. Read More
In 2015, CA Executive Director Soffiyah Elijah organized three trips to Cuba, providing travelers an opportunity to observe up close how Cuba's criminal justice system operates in comparison -- and contrast -- to the way that the United States' system prosecutes and incarcerates people. In a recent 2016 issue of Guernica magazine, writer Hyatt Bass, who was a part of one of the CA delegations to Cuba, interviewed Elijah about the distinctions between the two countries when it comes to the concept of punishment.Read More
(January 26, 2016, New York, NY) The Correctional Association applauds President Obama’s decision to restrict the use of solitary confinement. These limitations are a historical first step, including banning solitary for youth of 16 and 17, adding protections for other vulnerable populations including other young people and people with mental health needs, decreasing the lengths of time people can spend in solitary, and limiting the release of people directly from solitary to the outside community. Read More
(December 16, 2015, New York, NY): Today, the Correctional Association of New York (CA), the state’s oldest criminal justice reform organization, released the following statement in reaction to the announcement of an agreement with the state of New York resulting from litigation challenging NYDOCCS’ use of solitary confinement:Read More
On October 1, The New York Times published yet another article exposing the scope and breadth of violence and abuse that permeates the New York State prison system. In the latest of a string of accounts dating back to the Spring of 2015, NYT reporters Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip highlight the prison guard known throughout Clinton C.F.Read More
Fishkill is supposed to take care of mentally ill people like Ben, who was locked up as a schizophrenic teen. It turned out to be a death sentence. Benjamin Van Zandt’s hellish odyssey through New York’s criminal justice system began when the voices inside his head compelled him to light a neighbor’s house on fire.Read More
On Thursday, dozens of activists held a protest outside the Manhattan office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, calling for the closure of Attica prison. Scott Paltrowitz of the Correctional Association of New York said conditions at Attica haven’t improved in more than four decades. Scott Paltrowitz: “The brutality, the racism, the torture, the abuse that’s happening in Attica continues to this day.Read More
“Whatever Your Worst Fear Was, That Was Attica’: Former Prisoners Ask Cuomo to Shut Down NY’s Infamous Prison
Photo: Victoria Law On Thursday afternoon, the day before the 45th anniversary of the most famous prison uprising in U.S. history, dozens of people gathered across the street from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office demanding that he close the maximum-security prison at Attica. Fed up with brutal conditions, men imprisoned at Attica seized control of the prison on September 9, 1971, taking 43 staff members hostage.Read More
Rally to End Solitary in Harlem. Photo NYC Quaker Outside the New State Office Building in Harlem on a hot summer day, prison reform advocates stand with NYC Quakers. They oppose solitary confinement and demand an end to the inhumane treatment of inmates. Right now about 5000 inmates in NY are in the shu.Read More
In this show, which aired on July 9th, Jack Beck, Director of the Prison Visiting Project, discusses the latest report from the CA entitled, “Voices from Clinton: First-Hand Accounts of Brutality, Torture, and Cover-Up from People Incarcerated at an Infamously Abusive New York State Prison.” Listen to the full show here.Read More
One years after the high-profile escape of two men from Clinton Correctional Facility, the Correctional Association of New York, the state’s oldest prison reform organization, has released a scathing new report on the brutality that followed the escape. Voices from Clinton, documents cruelty often rising to the level of torture, and their subsequent cover up, in one of New York’s largest maximum security prisons.Read More
The Correctional Association of New York recently released Voices from Clinton, a report detailing the abuse and isolation many of the incarcerated people at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, face. (See accompanying post.) The report follows how punishments and brutality at an already notoriously violent prison have become worse since an escape made by two men in June 2015.Read More
On Monday the New York State Inspector General issued a report detailing systemic breakdowns that led to the escape of two inmates from the Clinton Correctional facility in Northern New York. On Thursday, the Correctional Association of New York released a report detailing violence and abuse against inmates at the maximum security prison.Read More
NEW YORK—A year after the 2015 escape of two men from Clinton Correctional Facility, the Correctional Association of New York, the oldest criminal justice reform organization in the state, released a , new 36- page report on Clinton Correctional Facility featuring first person narratives, mostly anonymous, from those incarcerated at the prison.Read More
While the state inspector general’s report detailed the factors that contributed to the escape from Clinton Correctional Facility last June, a new report from a prisoner advocacy group levels a number of abuse claims against staff at the maximum-security prison that allegedly occurred in the wake of the escape. The Correctional Association of NY report, largely a compilation of anonymous inmate accounts, contends the June 6, 2015, breakout was followed by an uptick in abusive behavior by employees, plus excessive use of solitary confinement and rampant racism.Read More
VOICES FROM CLINTON: First-Hand Accounts of Brutality, Torture, And Cover-up From People Incarcerated at an Infamously Abusive New York State Prison
New York State prisons are plagued by a pervasive and entrenched culture of staff brutality, violence, abuse, racism, dehumanization, and intimidation, as well as the routine infliction of solitary confinement. As Correctional Association of NY (CA) reports on Clinton, Attica, Greene, Fishkill Correctional Facilities and other prisons have long documented, these abuses and their cover-ups are regular and typical practices in Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) prisons.Read More
Under unique statutory authority granted to the CA in 1846, WIPP monitors conditions in women’s prisons in New York, a role played by no other group in the country. WIPP coordinates the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide alliance of more than 1,800 people, and carries out advocacy campaigns to reform harmful criminal justice policies.Read More
The Correctional Association of NY conducted in depth interviews with 30 people currently incarcerated at Clinton on August 19 and 20, 2015, and corresponded with many more people held at the prison over the last few months. The information reported provides further confirmation of both extensive staff brutality in the aftermath of the June escape from Clinton, as reported by the New York Times; and longstanding and pervasive staff violence and abuse at Clinton, as last documented by the CA’s October 2014 report.Read More
Watch the Correctional Association’s video about the barbaric – and illegal – shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth. In 2009 New York enacted a statute restricting the use of shackles on women during childbirth. The law bans outright the use of restraints on women throughout labor, delivery and recovery “after giving birth,” which is meant to cover at least the duration of a woman’s stay at the hospital. Read More
Every time the CA visits a women’s prison in New York, reports abound concerning the poor standards of health care in general, and the struggles experienced by women who are incarcerated to secure women-specific care. “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State,” the February 2015 report by the Women in Prison Project, reveals the failure of the New York State prison system to provide quality reproductive health care and treat women with respect for their basic dignity and human rights.Read More
Attica Correctional Facility, a 2,000-bed maximum security prison in western New York, continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) state prison system 43 years after the 1971 prison uprising and violent suppression by state authorities. Read More
Greene C.F. has one of the highest concentrations of young people in any New York State prison, and also some of the highest reported allegations of staff violence, harassment, and intimidation against incarcerated persons. The Correctional Association of New York (CA) Prison Visiting Project (PVP) visited Greene C.F. on November 8 and 9, 2012, and received updated information about Greene from incarcerated persons and staff in 2014.Read More
Join the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) Campaign and be part of a movement to change the criminal justice system’s harsh and inappropriate response to DV survivors who act to protect themselves from an abuser’s violence.Read More
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
Lady Kathryn Williams, an advocate, survivor and member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners testifies about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at the Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum on Domestic Violence.Read More