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. In addition to individual meetings with nearly 100 legislators, CAIC also had a replica solitary confinement cell in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building, covered with poems, drawings, and writings by people currently incarcerated in New York. Also, the Incarcerated Nation Corporation (INC) and Fusion Media, along with support from activists held a Hip Hop for Human Rights concert, featuring artists who have served time in solitary and are using their talent to raise awareness of the issue.
The widespread use of long-term solitary confinement has come under fire in the face of increasing evidence that sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to severe psychological damage. Isolated confinement also fails to address the underlying causes of problematic behavior, and often exacerbates that behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.
In the last year, the chorus of voices speaking out against solitary confinement has expanded to include President Obama, the Pope, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Most recently, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Mandela Rules, which establish clear but non-binding limits on the use of solitary confinement. Across the country, state and local corrections officials, legislators and courts are making long-overdue changes to the practice prompted by the broad and fast-growing opposition to the cruel effects of solitary confinement and the tragic stories that have come to light. These stories included that of Kalief Browder who, as a teenager, endured three years of pre-trial detention on Rikers Island, including two years in solitary confinement. Although the charges that he had stolen a backpack were finally dismissed, young Mr. Browder tragically took his own life not long after his release.
Solitary confinement has never been shown to reduce prison violence. In fact, several state prison systems, including Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, have significantly reduced the number of people they hold in solitary confinement, and have seen prison violence decrease as well. In addition, individuals released from solitary confinement have higher recidivism rates. Each year, nearly 2,000 New Yorkers are released directly from extreme isolation to the streets. Those from New York City are dropped off at Port Authority—one block away from Times Square.
“I am here today because they can take our choices but they can’t our voices,” said Candie Hailey-Johnson, a survivor of more than two years of solitary confinement while in pre-trial detention on Rikers Island.
“Our 21 year old son took his life while in solitary confinement, and we live with this tragedy every day. Reform is needed now! Not one more family should have to endure this pain,” said Alicia Barraza and Doug Van Zandt, parents of Benjamin Van Zandt.
“The torturous effects of solitary confinement are fracturing the minds of Americans that are exposed. That fact alone warrants immediate estoppel. SUPPORT THE HALT BILL!” said Terrence Slater, CEO of Incarcerated Nation, Inc. and survivor of solitary confinement.
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