Mental Health Advocacy
In 2004, the Prison Visiting Project (PVP) published Mental Health in the House of Corrections, which examined the programs and services–or lack thereof–for mentally ill individuals incarcerated in New York State prisons. Today, PVP continues its advocacy on behalf of incarcerated individuals with mental illness by promoting policies that will create safer, more humane facilities for both incarcerated individuals and staff. In ongoing prison visits, PVP closely monitors the conditions of confinement for this often-victimized population.
The 2004-05 New York State budget allocates $13 million for mental health services, including services for people confined in Special Housing Units (SHUs), where they are locked in small cells for 23 hours each day. The oppressive conditions of the SHUs exacerbate mental illness and foster self-destructive and aggressive behavior. PVP has long called for removing patients with mental illness from SHUs and placing them in mental health treatment facilities.
Although the new budget initiatives are a welcome step, the approximately 300 beds they will create are insufficient to meet the needs of over 800 incarcerated individuals on the Office of Mental Health caseload who are currently confined in SHUs. Moreover, it is not clear that all the beds planned will be appropriate: some beds are in units that are not typically available to incarcerated individuals who are prone to aggression and disruption, while others offer limited mental health treatment, but continue to house individuals in SHU cells, which aggravate the incarcerated individuals’ mental conditions.
As a member of the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement Coalition, PVP is calling for the passage of legislation that will improve mental health care, especially for incarcerated individuals confined to SHUs. This legislation is supported by NYSCOBA, the correction officers’ union, and would represent a significant advance in the effort to provide humane and effective treatment to a highly vulnerable group of incarcerated people.
The CA has been monitoring the high rates of suicide and self-harm in the state prisons for more than a decade and has repeatedly drawn attention to excessively high rates of harm at certain prisons and in specific locations, such as solitary confinement and residential mental health units, to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the legislature in the CA’s reports and legislative testimonies. DOCCS suicide rate from 2010-16 was 56% higher than the national average for all US prisons.Read More
The Prosecution of Noor Salman, Pulse Shooter’s Widow, Highlights the Criminalization of Domestic Abuse Survivors
The first time Noor Salman told her aunt about the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her husband was also the first time she found herself free of him. It was June 2016, just five days after her husband, Omar Mateen, had walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people [...]Read More
Reports & Research
“Solitary at Southport: A 2017 Report Based Upon the Correctional Association’s Visits, Data Analysis, & First-Hand Accounts of the Torture of Solitary Confinement from One of New York’s Supermax Prisons”
“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” Solitary confinement is torture. New York State subjects people to solitary confinement and other forms of isolation [...]Read More