The “SHU” Has Finally Dropped
After years of public reporting and advocacy work on the part of the Correctional Association and other advocates, legislation designed to protect incarcerated people with mental illness was finally signed into law on January 29, 2008.
The Correctional Associatios’s in-depth reporting on the issue, Lockdown New York (2003) and Mental Health in the House of Corrections (2004), drew wide attention from policymakers, media, and the public, especially in exposing the large numbers of incarcerated people with mental illness inhumanely placed in harsh disciplinary confinement cell blocks known as Special Housing Units (SHU).
Working with the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, a coalition of advocates and family members of incarcerated individuals and key legislative allies, the Correctional Association led a multi-year effort to secure protection and appropriate treatment for incarcerated individuals with mental illness.
The new law includes numerous important advances that will govern how the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) treat incarcerated people with serious mental illness who would otherwise face disciplinary confinement.
Among its provisions, the law:
- diverts most incarcerated people with serious mental illness from SHU;
- restricts prisons from placing them on restricted diets, and;
- establishes minimum standards for mental health assessment and treatment.
Our work, however, is far from over.
The Prison Visiting Project has launched a monitoring initiative to make certain that DOCS and OMH implement new policies with all due expediency, that guidelines preserve the therapeutic nature of new mental health services, and that both agencies limit any and all exceptions to new requirements. We are also working closely with the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, which under the new law will assume a critical quality assurance role.
As the only organization with unrestricted access to New York’s prisons, the Correctional Association will play a crucial role in ensuring that these new policies fulfill their potential to have a positive, far-reaching impact for people behind bars.
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. Read More
From a 6-by-9-foot room, Sara “Mariposa” Fonseca told a story much bigger than herself. Fonseca, who served 15 months in solitary confinement at a California women’s prison, wrote letters to playwright and activist Julia Steele Allen. The result, a play named “Mariposa & the Saint,” will be performed at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Charles R. [...]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
Reports & Research
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 [...]Read More