Two Steps Back: Budget Fix Targets Incarcerated People with Mental Illness
On December 4, the New York State Commission on Quality of Care (CQC) came to the Correctional Association as part of its role in monitoring the implementation of a new law that protects incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness. The law–dubbed the “SHU Bill”–prohibits prisons from confining incarcerated people with mental illness in disciplinary cellblocks known as Special Housing Units and requires that they be diverted to prison residential treatment programs.
The Commission came in part to hear from family members of incarcerated individuals who have suffered under these conditions. One family member told of how her son was ridiculed by a correction officer, stopped taking his medications, and was placed in isolation for fifteen days. Another told of her brother, diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was denied treatment in spite of his physical and mental deterioration in the SHU. The family members who testified were members of Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement–an advocacy group that worked closely with the CA in pressing for passage of the law. Their messages emphasized how very important the law is to ensuring appropriate treatment for incarcerated individuals with mental illness.
Given our ongoing work on this issue, we were alarmed to learn that, in searching for ways to close New York’s budget gap, Governor Paterson proposed an amendment to the SHU Bill that would seriously weaken several important provisions. As of this writing, the governor’s proposal would delay the law’s implementation deadline from 2011 to 2014, reduce training requirements for prison staff, and exempt certain prisons–representing about 50% of the SHU beds system-wide–from the law’s requirements.
Governor Paterson has made some wise decisions in planning criminal justice savings. He has proposed closing underutilized prisons and supports reforming New York’s harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws. However, undermining the effectiveness of the SHU Bill is a notable lapse in this good judgment–one that we and our allies will aggressively oppose. State officials must indeed identify and implement prison savings–and we are ready to aid in that task–but we will not stand by passively as they roll back the recent progress made in providing humane treatment to the highly vulnerable population of incarcerated individuals with mental illness.
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
John J. Lennon, a contributing writer at The Marshall Project, has written for Vice, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. He is currently in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. He will be eligible for parole in 2029. Joe Cardo was out hunting for half-smoked cigarettes. From my perch at the white-boys’ table of the A Block [...]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
Prison Monitoring Reports
The Correctional Association of NY released a report on March 31, 2016 about Collins Correctional Facility, highlighting the large number of people with mental illness incarcerated at Collins and the lack of support and programs for these and other people incarcerated at the prison. Collins Correctional Facility is a medium security prison in western New [...]Read More