“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 at rates above the national average and in a racially disparate manner. On any given day, in NYS prisons alone roughly 2,900 people are held in Special Housing Units (SHU) and an additional estimated 1,000 or more people are held in keeplock (KL). In 2015 after limited SHU reforms, the number of people in SHU rose to over 4,100, the highest rate of solitary in the history of NYS prisons, more than a third higher than in the early 2000s and higher than its previous 2012 peak. Even with some reductions in 2016 and 2017, NYS’s rate of isolation – nearly 8% including KL and 5.8% if only SHU – is much higher than the national average of 4.4% and four or more times higher than some states – like Colorado, Washington, and Connecticut – that have less than 1% or 2% of incarcerated people in solitary.
Southport Correctional Facility is one of the two super-maximum security prisons in NYS with the primary purpose of holding people in solitary or isolated confinement. Southport was originally a regular maximum security prison, but became New York’s first prison dedicated entirely to solitary confinement in 1991. Southport currently incarcerates about 400 people in solitary in the SHU. Beyond the already racially disproportionate infliction of solitary across prisons statewide, nearly 90% of people in the SHU at Southport are Black (62%) or Latino (27%), while only 2% of Correction Officers (COs) at Southport are Black (1.4%) or Latino (0.7%). Even more extreme, and reflective of the deeply engrained racism of the prison system, of all people who were held at Southport for the entirety of 2015, 76% were Black.
The Correctional Association of New York (CA) conducted a full monitoring visit of Southport in February 2015 and further investigations of Southport in 2015 and 2016. During the 2015 visit, the CA spoke one-on-one with nearly every person in the SHU while we were there. The CA subsequently received over 190 written surveys from people in Southport’s SHU, had repeated correspondence with numerous people incarcerated at Southport, conducted extensive interviews in 2015 and 2016 with nearly 50 people held in the SHU at Southport, and analyzed prison-specific and system-wide data.
To even begin to have some understanding of the real experience of solitary at Southport requires learning directly from the people who are living in solitary the details of what they are enduring. On December 13, 2017 we released, “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 narratives in this publication provide representative examples of the experiences of the hundreds of people the CA communicated with at Southport, including:
devastating conditions and impacts of solitary confinement
- intersections between solitary, mental health and self-harm
- pervasive staff brutality, racism, and abuse in “the Box”
- minor conduct resulting in long-term solitary
- young people growing up in prison and solitary
The CA, along with its partners in the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYCAIC), and many other advocates, call for New York to immediately pass and implement the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A.3080B/S.4784A.HALT, with more than 90 sponsors in the NYS legislature, would ensure that no person is subjected to the torture of solitary beyond 15 consecutive days and would create more humane alternatives. The CA’s report includes additional recommendations to adress the use of solitary and the dire consequences for the people held at Southport.
Southport intentionally exists to hold people in the torture of solitary confinement, and staff abuses cause the harm in solitary to be even worse and result in even longer time periods in solitary. New York must end the torture, brutality, racism, and abuse at Southport and across the state prisons at the same time that it transforms the purpose and practices of incarceration and reduces the number of people incarcerated. The CA is deeply grateful to the incredibly courageous people incarcerated at Southport who took substantial risks to share their experiences and insights, speak truth to power, expose the torture of solitary confinement, and help build a movement toward halting this torture, ending violence and abuse behind the walls, and challenging the racist system of incarceration.
See current media coverage of the report:
For media or speaker requests or inquiries pertaining to solitary confinement and “Solitary at Southport,” email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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