A legitimate system is one in which power is used appropriately, rights are protected, and people have access to a process that ensures fair outcomes
Even though many corrections officers perform their jobs with professionalism, incarcerated people are vulnerable to unfair treatment and abuse inside prison, where power disparities are easily exploited
Abuse of power — ranging from harassment to the misuse of isolated confinement — is a pervasive problem in New York’s prisons.
There are many ways in which legitimacy can be undermined, ranging from a verbal harassment to the racially disparate use of solitary confinement throughout the prison system; from withholding mail to physically assaulting incarcerated people in blind spots where cameras cannot record footage.
CANY has paid significant attention to the overuse of isolated confinement — one of the most prevalent and damaging ways legitimacy is undermined.
On an average day in New York's prisons, approximately 2,600 people are in Special Housing Units, also known as solitary confinement, and an estimated 1,000 people are in disciplinary confinement in their cells, known as "keeplock."
Despite evidence that this practice causes devastating physical and behavioral health outcomes for those subjected to it, and that it makes prisons and communities less safe, it persists.
OUR WORK TOWARD SOLUTIONS
Current focus: We are committed to documenting and developing ways to reduce the pervasive misuse of isolation in state prisons. Part of the solution lies outside prisons, with regulations limiting the extent and length of solitary confinement.
For the last several years, CANY – in partnership with the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement – helped to spearhead a campaign and shaped legislation to restrict the use of solitary confinement beyond 15 days for everyone in state custody. The Human Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act passed the New York State Assembly in 2018.
For legislative reforms to take hold, we must work inside prisons themselves, with the correctional staff who will always have considerable discretion to determine who should be sent to solitary and how individuals are treated once inside.