The Torture of Solitary Confinement in NY Prisons & Jails
- People in isolated confinement in NY State spend 22 to 24 hours a day locked in a cellthe size of an elevator, alone or with one other person. They may be permitted 1-2 hours to exercise alone in a cage; they do not receive any meaningful programs or therapy, and often cannot make phone calls.
- The sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to intense suffering and severe damage. Isolated confinement fails to address, and often exacerbates, underlying causes of difficult behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.
- Most people sent to isolation in New York State prisons spend months or years there; some individuals have been in solitary confinement in New York’s prisons for more than two decades (upwards of 30 years). The entire United Nations General Assembly has denounced solitary exceeding 15 days. Colorado has implemented a 15-day limit on solitary and reduced the number of people in solitary from 1,500 to 18. NY currently places no limit on the total time a person can spend in isolated confinement.
- On any given day, thousands of people are in isolated confinement in NYS prisons and jails, at rates worse than the national average. The majority of sentences that result in isolated confinement in NYS are for non-violent conduct. Black people represent about 13% of all people in NYS, but 50% of those incarcerated in NYS, and nearly 60% of people held in long-term solitary confinement units in NY. Young people and people with mental illness are disproportionately likely to be put in isolation.
- Many hundreds of people are released directly from extreme isolation to the outside community each year in NY; they receive no educational or rehabilitative programming, and no transitional services to help them prepare for their return to society, increasing rates of recidivism.
- Any correction officer can write a disciplinary ticket for alleged rule violations. Hearings by DOCCS employees to adjudicate disciplinary tickets that result in solitary confinement are arbitrary and unfair: 95% of people charged with these rule violations are found guilty.
Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, S. 4784A / A. 3080B
Pending legislation in NY, currently with 69 Sponsors in the Assembly and 21 Sponsors in the Senate, that would:
- End the torture of solitary by ensuring that no person is ever held in isolated confinement beyond 15 days in line with international standards, including the Mandela Rules.
- Create more humane and effective alternatives by fundamentally transforming the response to people’s needs and behaviors, from deprivation and isolation to additional support, programs, and therapy. Anyone separated from the general prison population beyond 15 days would have at least seven hours per day out-of-cell with meaningful human contact and programs.
- Drastically restrict the criteria that can result in extended isolation or separation to the most egregious conduct in need of an intensive therapeutic and rehabilitative intervention.
- Ban any solitary for people particularly vulnerable to the effects of, or abuse inside of, isolation.
- Better equip staff to work with incarcerated people (via training), and make the processes resulting in separation fairer (including via legal representation), more transparent (via mandatory reporting), and with more accountability (via outside oversight).
Action to Take Today to Support HALT and Join the Movement!
1) Sign a Petition to end the torture of solitary in NY prisons & jails: form at nycaic.org
2) Sign up for CAIC’s Advocacy Day for HALT in Albany March 13: form at nycaic.org
3) Have a group/organization endorse HALT: form at nycaic.org
4) Write Letter/Tweet – Write a letter, take a photo, and send: Dear @NYGovCuomo: I Support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act because … . #HALTsolitary @nycaic.
Other Action You Can Take!
5) Form a CAIC group or include HALT as part of your existing group’s priorities:
- Host a film screening or discussion
- Hold a monthly Together to End Solitary action: CAIC holds actions in different parts of the state on the 23rd of every month in recognition of the 23+ hours a day people spend in solitary. Join UUCSR’s or hold one in your area!
- Meet with your legislators in their district offices or in Albany
- Write op-ed in local paper: https://nyacknewsandviews.com/2017/05/j-mancuso-halt-solitary/
6) Learn more about CAIC at: www.nycaic.org and facebook.com/NYCAIC, and about a collective CAIC is a part of that tackles the entire racist and horrific incarceration system at: https://nationinside.org/campaign/challenging-incarceration/. Also read a new Solitary at Southport report by the Correctional Association: http://bit.ly/2C3qTLT
Contact your Policy-Makers!
7) CALL leading Senators Klein (718-822-2049), Lanza (718-984-4073), and Serino (845-229-0106), and CALL/Write your NYS Representatives and tell them: “I am a New Yorker (and a constituent), and I oppose solitary confinement. We need to end its use in NYS prisons and jails. I support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S.4784A/ A.3080B) and urge you to sign-on as a co-sponsor of HALT and help pass it in this session!” Find your legislators at http://openstates.org.
8) CALL Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390. “I am a New Yorker, I oppose solitary confinement. We need to end its use in NYS prisons & jails. I support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S.4784A/A.3080B) and urge you to get behind HALT to pass it in NY. I also urge you to require DOCCS to enact this bill’s reforms. Don’t wait for the legislature – act now to make NY a leader in protecting human rights for all!”