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.
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
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. The brave people willing to come forward to report what is happening behind the walls shared tragic and harrowing accounts highlighting several things everyone should know about Clinton.Read More
(June 29, 2015, New York, NY) The Correctional Association of New York (CA) today enthusiastically welcomed the quick action last week by New York State lawmakers in passing new anti-shackling legislation. This bill strengthens enforcement of the current law and expands anti-shackling protections to women throughout their pregnancy and eight weeks post-partum.Read More
June 15, 2015 - In an open letter to be hand-delivered to Albany today, sixty state-wide and national organizations including international human rights groups, social workers, faith-based organizations and children's advocates, strongly urged the passage of Raise the Age legislation before the sessions ends this week.Read More
n this timely and insightful piece in The Hill on March 11 by the CA's Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project, and Sarah Bryer, Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), the authors lay out a cogent and fact-based case for why there needs to be significant change in our youth justice system.Read More
March 3, 2015, (New York, NY): The misdemeanor plea deals offered to the three Attica guards who brutally beat George Williams are historic. Indeed, it is the first time in the history of New York State that any guard has been prosecuted for brutality against someone in prison. It is significant because it sends a message that prosecution is possible. But there’s another message here, one that we know all too well -- that the lives of people who are incarcerated hold little to no value. Read More
[Video] Family of Samuel Harrell, Killed by “Beat Up Squad” in NY Prison, Holds Hunger Strike for Justice
We speak with family members who have just concluded a five-day hunger strike marking the first anniversary of the death of Samuel Harrell, who died after as many as 20 corrections officers kicked, punched and threw him down a flight of stairs while he was incarcerated at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York.Read More
To the Editor: Re “New York State Taking On Union of Prison Guards” (front page, April 12): Since 1846, the Correctional Association has monitored and reported to lawmakers and the public on prison conditions, bearing witness to a pervasive and persistent culture of violence and abuse suffered by teenagers, women and men in New York State prisons.Read More
Yesterday morning in Albany’s Legislative Office Building, Alecia Barraza’s voice cracked as she described her 21-year-old son’s mental decline and eventual suicide during his isolation in solitary confinement at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Dutchess County. “We live with this tragedy every day,” Barraza said of the death of her son, Benjamin Van Zandt.Read More
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Cherelle Baldwin was technically free. It had been nine days since her release from York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only prison for women. She spent almost three years there, waiting to stand trial for the murder of her ex-boyfriend before being found innocent. But even though she was back outside, free to go anywhere she wanted, whenever she wanted, Baldwin said she felt trapped.Read More
For 23 hours a day, Kristofer Acosta lived in an 8-by-10-foot cell. Sometimes, he wouldn’t have human contact for weeks on end. For month-long stretches, on and off for five years, he stared at the same gray walls, spending his waking hours measuring time in endurable increments. “When you’re locked up, especially in solitary, you find ways to cope,” says Acosta, 30.Read More
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y.—Standing in the middle of his prison cell, Masai Giardino Stewart could touch the walls if he outstretched his arms. Throughout the sweltering summer, Stewart was confined in this space for at least 23 hours a day. With no windows, and vents clogged with dust and dirt, Stewart frequently had difficulty breathing.Read More
As the one-year anniversary of inmate Samuel Harrell’s death at the Fishkill Correctional Facility approaches, residents in Beacon continue to seek ways to ensure that what happened last April doesn’t happen again. Beacon Prison Action (BPA), a community organization formed in the wake of Harrell’s death, hosted a forum Tuesday night (Feb. 23) at the Howland Cultural Center, where speakers discussed life behind bars and what they called the harsh realities of prison brutality. Read More
The number of state prison inmates tossed in solitary confinement has surpassed 4,000 for the first time in three years, despite vows by officials to limit its use, the Daily News has learned. And prison advocates say there’s been an increase since this summer, due in large part to backlash from correction officers after the June escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from the Clinton Correctional Facility upstate.Read More
(image courtesy of CAIC) There are more than 80,000 people in locked up in solitary confinement nationwide, and a group of New Yorkers are planning to protest the treatment and to advocate for change. The Monday gathering in Brooklyn — at Eastern Parkway and Utica Street — will be the fifth such rally, held on the 23rd of the month to signify the 23 hours a day prisoners in solitary are locked down in their cells.Read More
In 2013, I met a woman who’d spent two years in solitary confinement. Her words rattled me. She told me, “You’re not going to get it. You think you get it, but you don’t, and it’s so much worse than you imagine.” I certainly didn’t get it — but I wanted to get it, or to come as close to getting it as possible.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
In this issue; The Close to Home Initiative: youth leaders speak out; The Prison Rape Elimination Act; Welcome to CA’s new staff and board membersRead More