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.
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
A New York Times article published today exposes what we at the Correctional Association of New York have long known: that Attica Correctional Facility continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in New York State prisons. The history of the 1971 rebellion and the state’s violent suppression still infuse Attica’s walls and operations. Read More
On February 12, 2015, the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York (CA), the state’s oldest criminal justice reform organization, released a major report entitled, “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons,” the most extensive study of reproductive health care in a state prison system to date, and one of the most in-depth studies of conditions for women in prison in the country.Read More
CA Testifies Before NYC Correction Board to Oppose New Rule Establishing Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) Units
In testimony presented at a public hearing on proposed rule making by the NYC Board of Correction (BOC), the CA strongly expressed its opposition to the establishment of Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) units in its jails. The CA also called for an end to solitary confinement for everyone incarcerated in NYC and New York State jails and prisons, responding to recent reports that NYC will end such treatment for 16- and 17-year olds only.Read More
The Correctional Association of NY testified on November 13 before the New York State Assembly’s Committees on Correction and Mental Health, demanding state officials to improve care for people with mental health needs. Based on the CA’s unique statutory authority to visit New York’s prisons and its advocacy on behalf of people with mental health needs, the CA provided comprehensive testimony about the barriers to quality prison mental health care and recommendations for fundamental change.Read More
On November 12 and 13, a committee of human rights experts at the United Nations will convene a formal review of the United States’ record on torture. Taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, the review will look at whether the federal government is sufficiently living up to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), a global treaty that outlines specific measures for governments to take in preventing torture or any type of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.Read More
Last month the Prison Visiting Project (PVP) testified before the NY Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding New York’s prison system and the fundamental reforms needed to end the torture of solitary confinement for incarcerated youth and all people. As a follow-up to that meeting, PVP Associate Director Scott Paltrowitz prepared written testimony further underscoring the urgent concerns raised during the July meeting – including the four key aspects of reform that the CA would like to see the Advisory Committee explore and consider in issuing its own recommendations.Read More
Clinton Correctional Facility has an infamous history of staff violence, brutality, dehumanization and racist attitudes that are an affront to any sense of humanity. The Correctional Association (CA) visited Clinton in July 2012, received more than 600 surveys from people incarcerated at Clinton, and obtained updated information about conditions at Clinton in 2014.Read More
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
The Fishkill Correctional Facility has a new superintendent as of today. This follows a story from the New York Times last week that documents the homicide of a man held at the prison. Witnesses in the story say corrections officers at the facility violently confronted the man, which later led to his death.Read More
Prison officials in New York last year reached a tentative settlement with the state’s civil liberties union, agreeing to shelve a pending legal battle and instead collaborate on new rules that could sharply limit the time inmates spend in solitary confinement. And that could mean downsizing New York’s network of isolation cells known as SHU units.Read More
More than a dozen activists with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement – a group that opposes the practice of solitary confinement in prisons and jails – rallied on behalf of inmates on Sunday, seeking support for legislation to end a practice they say is inhumane. Scott Paltrowitz, an associate director with the Correctional Association of New York, said solitary confinement, in which inmates are kept alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, for years – with no physical contact with other inmates, or even guards – can cause psychological damage.Read More
71 inmates have filed complaints with Prisoners Legal Services alleging violent retribution by corrections officers at Clinton Correctional facility during and in the wake of the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat. The revelations by the New York Times have shocked many people. The Correctional Association of New York is the only group that has statutory authority under New York state law to enter prisons to monitor conditions.Read More
After two inmates escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in early June, leaving everyone to wonder what awful things might happen outside the prison’s walls, there were plenty of horrible things already happening to the prisoners still trapped inside. A new report from the New York Times says that inmates accused guards, who were searching for information about the escape, of punching them in the face and ribs; slamming them against walls; shackling them so tight that it caused bruises; threatening to waterboard them; denying them medical care after hurting them; tying plastic bags around their necks until they passed out; putting them in solitary confinement for weeks; throwing away their wedding rings, photos, years of correspondence, and diaries; taking away honor-block privileges that took years to learn; yelling at them; and transferring them to different prisons.Read More
A couple of months after Sam Hamilton was released from Fishkill correctional facility, a medium security prison in upstate New York where he spent 32 years on charges of felony and murder, he returned to the prison – this time as a civilian. Hamilton was there to celebrate. His friends, 24 inmates at Fishkill were graduating with degrees in organizational management from Nyack College, which they completed while serving time.Read More
The women in Clearman’s workshop who chose to participate wrote letters detailing the location they wanted photographed, instructions for the photographer and, in some instances, a brief explanation of why the location was important to them. Requests were also received from a nearby juvenile detention facility. Strandquist’s only stipulation was that the locations be within the New York City metropolitan area.Read More
In 2010 the New York state legislature passed a law that offers treatment to prisoners diagnosed with mental illnesses instead of being placed in solitary confinement. That law limited the treatment option only for people diagnosed with some, not all, mental illnesses and PTSD was not included in the list. The law also permitted prison officials to keep prisoners in solitary confinement, indefinitely.Read More
DeAngelo Cortijo was 11 years old when he locked himself in a group home van. For that, he was sent to a juvenile prison in San Francisco. There, he got into a fight and was kept in his room for four days. Locking a person in a room or cell is frequently referred to as isolation, isolated confinement or solitary confinement.Read More
Advocates gather in Albany to urge end to solitary confinementPhoto Credit: Mario Poggio A bill to significantly limit the use solitary confinement in New York state prison and local jails gained momentum last week, after nine Assembly members and two state senators agreed to support the legislation. The new sponsorships, secured after a day of lobbying that brought more than 120 activists to Albany from around the state, brought the total number of co-sponsors to 33 in the Assembly and 11 in the Senate.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
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
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
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
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
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
In this issue; Prison report on healthcare; Laura Davidson honored; WIPP premieres "Strength of a Woman"Read More
Throughout the country, a growing number of states now prohibit housing inmates with mental illness in solitary confinement. Read More
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