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.
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 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
(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
Five Mualimm-ak knows first hand the damage that solitary confinement can do to someone’s psyche. He spent over a decade in prison, five of those years in solitary. “You’re in this cell, just losing your mind,” he says. Now an activist, Mualimm-ak has made it his mission to bring awareness to the effects that punitive isolation can have on the human brain.Read More
ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A local advocacy group protested against solitary confinement outside the Governor’s Mansion Friday night. The campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement is made of ex-inmates, lawyers and human rights and health advocates. It’s pushing for the HALT Solitary Confinement Act to be enabled in state legislation. The law is aimed at providing rehabilitative substitutes for solitary confinement for inmates who need focused therapy in order to be released.Read More
A few days after Ramon Fabian arrived at the Ulster Correctional Facility on the southern edge of the Catskill Mountains last year, a guard conducting the morning head count yelled at him to shut up. Inmates at Ulster, a medium-security New York State prison, are required to stay in place and keep their voices low during the count.Read More
NEW YORK — Correctional officers brought Tama Bell’s mentally ill son to the brink of suicide for throwing a rag on a table, she says. Bell’s son, Masai, was at Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, N.Y., in 2014 for a psychiatric evaluation and had gotten a job there. Inmates and officers were making fun of him when he was cleaning tables and told him to redo it, she said.Read More
A Poughkeepsie Journal investigation found two dozen cases locally and 175 statewide in which inmates who said they were beaten by prison officers received money in lawsuit settlements or verdicts. The beating of inmate Steven Ostane at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill was so severe, so horrific, that he was left with the bone in his upper leg poking grotesquely through his skin, a compound break of the body’s strongest bone.Read More
Prison Guard ‘Beat Up’ Squad Accused of Killing Inmate: Why Prison Abuse Is So Common and Overlooked
Samuel Harrell’s death at the hands of a group of correctional officers at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon N.Y. known as the “beat-up squad” is a tragic, but all too common instance of abuse taking place in America’s correctional facilities. According to an investigation by the New York Times, Harrell, who has bipolar disorder, got into an argument with correctional officers on April 21, after packing his bags and saying he was headed home.Read More
In an hour-long interview on WBAI’s “On the Count” a weekly radio show that is broadcast in New York State prisons, the CA’s Scott Paltrowitz, the Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project (PVP)and Tyrrell Muhammad, a PVP Associate who was formerly incarcerated in New York State and knows all too well what occurs in NYS prisons, discuss the recently reported cases of abuse, neglect and homicide at the hands of NYS corrections officers.Read More
#BlackLivesMatter, and #BlackPrisonersMatter too. That’s the message protesters and family members of Samuel Harrell sent to an upstate New York district attorney Thursday. They’re demanding that Dutchess County District Attorney Bill Grady bring charges against the 20 or so corrections officers who brutally beat and killed Harrell, a 30-year-old black inmate, earlier this year inside the Fishkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison 60 miles north of New York City.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
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