CA Applauds President’s Ban on Use of Solitary Confinement on Juveniles in Federal Prisons

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Contact: Annette Warren-Dickerson 212-254-5700 ext. 332; 646-539-5911
Judy Yu 212-254-5700 ext. 312

Urges Legislature and Governor Cuomo to follow suit and pass bills limiting its use in New York and raising the age of criminal responsibility

(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. The CA has documented the deep damage solitary confinement enacts on all humans – and the particular dangers for vulnerable populations, including youth, whose brains do not completely develop until the age of 25. People regularly spend months and years in isolated confinement, and sometimes decades; this is torture. The CA has also documented the horrible conditions and abuse that young people in prison face generally.

Children and other people in solitary confinement may spend only one hour a day out of their cells, with their “recreation” taking place alone in an outdoor pen; they do not attend school and their food is pushed through a door slot. Depriving humans of contact and forcing anyone to endure long periods of isolation is physically, psychologically, and emotionally devastating; it is especially shattering for developing adolescent brains. As the President pointed out, people in solitary are also more likely to commit suicide.

New York State has the opportunity to do the right and humane thing this legislative session and protect our youth and all New Yorkers. New York must raise the age of criminal responsibility and pass the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A.4401/S.2659. Under current law, New York arrests, prosecutes, and incarcerates all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults without exception. Legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility to eighteen will help ensure that we no longer subject our children to inhumane conditions and abuses in adult jails and prisons. Also currently, thousands of people are in isolated confinement in NY prisons and jails, disproportionately people of color. Although international standards mandate that no person should spend more than 15 days in isolation, in New York people spend months, years, and decades. HALT will ensure that New York no longer subjects anyone to the torture of solitary confinement and instead creates alternative units that provide rehabilitation and treatment to address incarcerated people’s needs.

Science and research shows that isolation and punishment-based incarceration shatters the mind and spirits of children and families, and results in broken people and families upon release from prison. The New York State Legislature and Governor Cuomo must heed President Obama’s call to respect the basic human rights of those we incarcerate and to give people the opportunity to remake their lives through humane, evidence based rehabilitation and treatment. Raising the age of criminal responsibility and passing HALT and will ultimately lead to stronger families, healthier communities, and increased public safety.