Correctional Association of New York releases “Solitary at Southport: A 2017 Report Based Upon the Correctional Assn.’s Visits, Data Analysis, & First-Hand Accounts of the Torture of Solitary Confinement from One of New York’s Supermax Prisons”

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Solitary at Southport Rev. 11-29-17 low resolution_Page_01New York, NY (December 13, 2017): Today The Correctional Assn. of NY (CA), founded in 1844 and one of the oldest prison watchdog organizations in the country, released a 92-page report providing graphic first-hand depictions of physical, mental, and emotional abuse as a result of days, weeks, and often years of being caged in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day.

Entitled, “Solitary at Southport: A 2017 Report Based Upon the Correctional Assn.’s Visits, Data Analysis, & First-Hand Accounts of the Torture of Solitary Confinement from One of New York’s Supermax Prisons,” the report is part of a years-long statewide effort among advocates, primarily the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYCAIC), including survivors of solitary, family members and other directly impacted people, health professionals, and others to expose the horrors and rampant use of solitary confinement in New York State prisons and to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement bill, A.3080/S.4784. New York State’s rate of isolation is much higher than the national average of 4.4%.

“The isolation itself is torture. Mentally and emotionally, it breaks you down. Spiritually it strips you. The way it is built is to break you down as a person and push your family away. – From “Solitary at Southport”

Southport Correctional Facility, once a regular maximum security prison, in 1991 became NY’s first prison dedicated to solitary confinement. There are currently around 350 people in the Special Housing Units (SHU) as of December 2017; of those, nearly 90% are Black or Latino. On any given day, in NYS prisons alone roughly 2,900 people are held in Special Housing Units (SHU) and an additional estimated 1,000 or more people are held in keeplock (KL). Although there have been some reductions in the use of solitary confinement in 2016 and 2017 due to the settlement of litigation, thousands of people remain in solitary each day, and people continue to spend months, years, and even decades in solitary in NY prisons.

Among the report’s findings are:

  • devastating conditions and impacts of solitary confinement
  • intersections between solitary, mental health and self-harm
  • pervasive staff brutality, racism, and abuse in “the Box”
  • minor conduct resulting in long-term solitary
  • young people growing up in prison and solitary

Scott Paltrowitz, an Associate Director at the CA and a co-author of the report said, “The people incarcerated at Southport who shared their brilliant insights and horrific experiences with the CA put themselves at great risk of physical harm, additional solitary confinement time, and other abuse in order to speak truth to power and make “Solitary at Southport” possible.”

State Senator Jamaal Bailey, a supporter of the HALT bill, made an impassioned appeal for an end to solitary. He also issued a clarion call to his fellow legislators to pass legislation to address the egregious practice. “Solitary confinement is inhumane and torturous,” he said. “I am proud to stand here to support HALT in solidarity against the practices of the Southport Correctional Facility. I commend the Correctional Association for a detailed and informative report on the conditions and effects of solitary confinement. I believe that we need more people of color serving as staff at these facilities, and a necessary step in criminal justice reform is ultimately eliminating the number of people that are held in confinement.”

“Confinement in Southport harms nearly everyone who is forced to live there,” said Jack Beck, co-author of the report and director of the Prison Visiting Project at the CA. “It causes significant mental health deterioration leading to frequent episodes of self-harm and sometimes suicide, and seriously undermines any meaningful relationship with those on the outside.”

State Senator Kevin Parker, the lead sponsor of the HALT bill in the New York State Senate, said, “For years my colleagues and I have been advocating against solitary confinement and I am eager for the release of the “Solitary At Southport Report” which will again provide substantial data supporting why solitary confinement is not only inhumane, but not needed in our criminal justice system. It is my hope that with these findings, and that of previous reports, will spur immediate action to pass legislation this session to end the brutal practice of solitary confinement. ”

One of the recurring themes in the report is the prevalence of self-harm among those held in solitary confinement. Alicia Barraza, whose son, Ben Van Zandt, suffering from mental illness, took his life while confined in solitary, said, “Putting young and mentally ill people in solitary confinement is so inhumane and destructive.”

To learn more and read the Executive Summary and the Full report, go to: http://bit.ly/2nXlMd9

For more information about the HALT bill and how you can take action, visit: http://bit.ly/2AlD1GJ

For media inquiries and requests for speakers email Annette Warren-Dickerson, Communications Director, at adickerson@correctionalassociation.org