Imagine living in a space the size of a bathroom, for months or years, without the ability to leave or go outside for 23 or 24 hours a day. The sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness imposed by such conditions can lead to intense suffering and severe psychological debilitation, even in healthy, well-functioning adults. For people suffering from mental illness, the consequences can be even more devastating. Whether called disciplinary segregation, special housing units (“SHU”), supermaxes, the hole, or the box, isolated confinement is a common practice in prisons across the country.
Although some states have significantly reduced the use of isolation in recent years, New York continues to impose disciplinary confinement at rates more than double the national average. Isolation is routinely used, not primarily to address chronically violent behavior or serious security or safety concerns, but often in response to non-violent or relatively minor prison rule violations, or even as retaliation for questioning authority, talking back to an officer, or filing grievances.
On any given day over 5,000 people in New York are held in solitary confinement. Since its inception and particularly in recent decades, the CA has reported on the use and conditions of solitary confinement, advocating for more humane alternatives. The CA believes that rather than using ineffective and inhumane punitive responses to rule violations, facilities should instead provide treatment and programs that address the underlying causes of individual behavior, such as substance abuse or mental illness.
The CA’s investigations into the conditions of isolation in New York prisons inform its membership in the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC). CAIC is a coalition that brings together advocates, formerly incarcerated persons, family members of currently incarcerated people, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State to advocate for the passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. What is the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A3080 / S4784) ? A: On June 12, 2018, the New York State Assembly passed the HALT Act, which puts restrictions on the use of solitary confinement and forces DOCCS to create humane disciplinary alternatives to solitary confinement. The bill bans anyone from being put in solitary for 15 consecutive days nor 20 days total in any 60 day period. The bill also bans specific populations most venerable to the effects of solitary confinement from solitary confinement including people 21 years or younger, 55 years or older, with disabilities (physical, mental, or medical), pregnant and LGBTQ.
Read the CA’s December 2017 report, Solitary at Southport, a first hand account of conditions and the effects of solitary confinement on the men at Southport. Southport is one of two prisons in New York State devoted to housing people in solitary confinement.
Read Prison Within Prison: Voices of Women Held in Isolated Confinement in New York, a collection of oral and visual observations from 20 women about their experiences being held in isolated confinement in New York’s women’s prisons and Rikers Island. In addition to the fear, anxiety, depression, suicidal and self-harm feelings, and sleep deprivation that people who are placed in isolation undergo, women in solitary experience these and additional gender-specific impacts such as re-traumatization due to their trauma histories. Women held in isolation also experience vulnerability to staff sexual misconduct, limitations on access to proper reproductive and other health care, and many other extremely negative and long lasting effects on their lives extending way beyond release from prison or jail. Read this one-page summary.
The New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is a coalition that brings together advocates, formerly incarcerated persons, family members of currently incarcerated people, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State to advocate for the passage of the HALT Act. The coalition is made up of over 30 organizations.
Ways to Get Involved With CAIC
1) “Together to End Solitary” monthly action: In recognition of the 23 hours or more per day that people spend in solitary, join us on the 23rd of each month in the struggle to end solitary confinement. More info here
2) Come to Other CAIC Events and Organizing Meetings. See upcoming events: http://nycaic.org/events-2/
3) Sign up for CAIC Emails: http://eepurl.com/CjxOv.
4) Sign this petition telling Governor Cuomo and members of the NY State Legislature to support the HALT Act.
5) Contact your legislators and tell them to support the HALT Act.
Look up your NY State Legislators here: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/