NYAPRS Note: 29% of prison inmates and 22% of jail inmates with mental health conditions were confined to often torturous solitary and other forms of restrictive confinement in the US, according to a recent federal study. Today, over 800 individuals with serious mental health conditions spend 23 hours a day in the ‘box’ in NYS prisons, despite the passage of 2008 legislation designed to exclude them from this horrific suffering.
Yesterday, NYAPRS joined a stirring group of former prisoners, aggrieved families, advocates and state legislators to call on the NYS Assembly to pass new legislation that would restrict the use of solitary confinement and ban it entirely for young, elderly, pregnant and mentally ill inmates. See below for media accounts
Criminal justice reforms have long been top priorities for NYAPRS, dating back to the successful 2008 ‘Boot the SHU’ campaign that required that some inmates diagnosed with serious mental health conditions be removed from segregated confinement and placed into residential mental health treatment units (RMHTU). Since then, we’ve extended our efforts in the areas of diversion (achieving an expansion of over 5 million dollars in new Crisis Intervention Teams) and re-entry (winning state authorization for a federal waiver request to restart Medicaid 30 days before prison/jail discharge, an application we hope will be re-submitted to CMS in the near future).
During yesterday’s news conference, reports surfaced that the Assembly’s Corrections Committee was considering moving the legislation forward. Let’s hope this is the next step towards passage by both houses of the Legislature and approval by the Governor in the coming year!
Lawmakers Urged to Restrict Use of Solitary Confinement
The Associated Press June 14, 2017
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state would restrict the use of solitary confinement and ban it entirely for young, elderly, pregnant and mentally ill inmates under legislation before state lawmakers.
A coalition of prison reform advocates, mental health experts and religious groups gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to urge passage of the bill before lawmakers adjourn their session next week.
The measure would limit solitary confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days unless an inmate is sent to a special rehabilitation unit, where he or she would receive special treatment to address their behavior.
By his recollection Victor Pate spent a total of 2 years in solitary while serving time for robbery and drug crimes decades ago, including a 90-day stint in isolation for keeping extra bed sheets. In an interview with The Associated Press, he said the crushing loneliness of spending 23 hours a day in a small cell is compounded by mistreatment from guards, who regularly deprive people in solitary of food, showers or exercise.
"A lot of time people without a mental illness come out (of isolation) with a mental illness," he said.
The changes have broad support in the Democrat-controlled Assembly but face big challenges in the Republican-led state Senate. The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association has opposed attempts to restrict what the organization says can be a useful method of decreasing prison violence.
Association spokesman James Miller said critics of solitary confinement don't understand the reality of modern prisons. Miller said most correctional facilities don't even use the term any longer, preferring the name "special housing unit." He said inmates put in special housing receive more medical, psychological and educational services than typical inmates.
"What the sponsors of this legislation fail to recognize on a regular basis, while they advocate on behalf of the inmates, are the daily threats and attacks that our members face every day from an increasingly violent prison population," Miller said. "Removing or reducing all aspects of discipline will severely diminish the ability of officers to maintain order."
In 2015 the state agreed, in a legal settlement, to reduce solitary confinement in state prisons and improve training of guards.
Some 4,000 people are held in solitary confinement at any given time in New York state. Federal numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that nearly 20 percent of state and federal prisoners across the nation have served some time in isolation, and that 4.4 percent of all prison inmates are in solitary on an average day.
Activists Want to Limit Solitary Confinement, Change Parole Board
By Rick Karlin, Albany Times Union June 13, 2017
A coalition of prison reform advocates and mental health groups joined forces Tuesday in their call for limits to the use of solitary confinement in prisons and in getting some more diverse faces on the state parole board.
They are pushing for passage of bill sponsored by Democratic Queens Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry that would limit the use of solitary confinement in prisons to no more than 15 consecutive days or 20 days total in any 60 day time period. A same-as measure is sponsored by Democrat Kevin Parker in the Senate.
The groups are also urging the governor not to reappoint five holdover parole board members, including three who date to the Pataki era. They leveled criticism at the parole board for what they said were members ignoring of legal updates that would allow the release of more inmates if they no longer provided a threat to society.
Here are some more details:
Legislators, formerly incarcerated people, and community groups joined forces to call on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to take action before the end of the legislative session to address what the New York Times has called the “scourge of racial bias” and the inhumanity of New York’s incarceration system. Because the Times’ series detailed how the use of solitary confinement and parole decisions exemplify the racism and brutality of the state prison system, advocates are calling for New York policy-makers to end the torture of solitary confinement and not reappoint or holdover five lawless parole commissioners whose terms expire this year.
Regarding solitary, legislators and advocates are calling on the NY Assembly to pass the #HALTsolitary confinement Act, A.3080 (Aubry) / S.4784 (Parker) before the end of the legislative session. There currently are thousands of people in solitary in New York on any given day, disproportionately Black and Latino people. Although the United Nations’ Mandela Rules prohibit solitary beyond 15 days for any person because it otherwise amounts to torture, in New York State people are regularly held in solitary for months and years, and sometimes decades. Led by lead sponsors Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Kevin Parker, the #HALTsolitary confinement Act would end this torture of solitary confinement and create more humane and effective alternatives.
With a majority of legislators now supporting it (including 69 co-sponsors, many others committed to vote for the bill, and majorities of the Correction and Codes Committees), the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is calling on the Assembly to pass HALT. Currently, over 120 organizations across the state – including leading mental health, human rights, criminal justice, social justice, and faith organizations – support CAIC/HALT.
Regarding parole, legislators and advocates are calling on Governor Cuomo and the State Senate to not re-appoint or holdover the five Parole Commissioners, including three Pataki appointees, whose terms expire this year. Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and Parole Justice NY are calling on the Governor and Senate to appoint 12 total new commissioners, all that reflects the racial, geographic and professional diversity of the communities that those in prison come from. The groups are explicitly calling on the Governor and Senate to not reappoint the five Commissioners whose terms expire this year and to prevent them from entering an indefinite holdover period.
The expiring Commissioners (James Ferguson, Kevin Ludlow, W. William Smith, Otis Cruse, and Julie Smith) have presided over a Board that denied release to 80 percent of the more than 12,000 applicants interviewed in 2015 . One such applicant committed suicide after having his parole denied for the 10th time. In addition, the Commissioners have, on many occasions, refused to abide by changes in the statute and regulations made by the state legislature, specifically a 2011 amendment to the Executive Law that mandates the Board’s decisions be guided by evidence-based “risk and needs” principles. Rather than assessing applicants as the people, they are today, the risk they currently pose, the transformation they have undergone, and their readiness for release, these Commissioners repeatedly deny people solely on the basis of their crime of conviction after decades of incarceration.
“The time to take action to reform our State’s criminal justice system is now,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “Passing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act and restructuring the Parole Board are critical measures that will bring us closer to that goal. I urge my colleagues in both the Senate and Assembly to bring the HALT Act to a vote and to strongly oppose the reappointment of current Parole Board Commissioners who deny incarcerated people the opportunity of a lawful and fair process. These measures are just two of the many we need to advance in our efforts to secure a more balanced and just criminal justice system.”
Opponents Push for Bill Restricting Solitary Confinement in State Prisons
By Josefa Velasquez, New York Law Journal June 13, 2017
ALBANY - Civil liberties advocates and lawmakers gathered at the Capitol Tuesday to urge legislators to pass a bill restricting the use of solitary confinement in state prisons before the end of the session next week.
The bill (S.4784/A.3080) seeks to place a limit of 15 consecutive days on solitary confinement, and a limit of 20 days within a 60-day period. Anything beyond the 15 or 20 days in total would require that the inmate be released or sent to a separate, secure residential rehabilitation unit.
The legislation sponsored by two Democratic lawmakers also seeks to prohibit solitary segregation of "vulnerable groups," including the young and elderly, people with mental disabilities, pregnant women, new mothers and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or intersex.
"The damaging effects of solitary confinement are very clear, with studies showing that the use of extreme isolation does more harm than good," said Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, a former correction officer on Rikers Island. "It's time that we pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act to take steps for rehabilitation and prohibit extreme isolation for those who have physical or mental disabilities."
In December 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration agreed to a five-year, $62 million overhaul of the state's handling of solitary confinement, which was a result of the case Peoples v. Fischer.
The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and lawyers with Morrison & Foerster, who were working pro bono with professor Alexander Reinert of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The Morrison & Foerster team was led by David Fioccola and Jennifer Brown. The agreement limits to three months the amount of time inmates can spend in special housing units.
Also, in January 2017, Northern District Judge David Hurd ruled that minors may not be held in solitary confinement (NYLJ, Feb. 24) in the case of V.W. v. Conway, 16-CV-1150, in which the NYCLU had challenged the practice (NYLJ, Feb. 28)
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc., the union that represents more than 30,000 corrections officers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed bill.
But in response to the 2015 agreement, the group released a statement that said, "our state's disciplinary confinement policies have evolved over decades of experience, and it is simply wrong to unilaterally take the tools away from law enforcement officers who face dangerous situations on a daily basis."
Push to End Long-Term Solitary Confinement
By Capital Tonight Staff June 8, 2017
This week, supporters of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT Act, were at the state capitol to call for an end to solitary confinement in New York state. And many of the advocates had personal experience with this matter. Tyrrell Muhammad from the Correctional Association of New York, who was in solitary confinement for seven years, and Victor Pate from the Incarcerated National Corp, who was in solitary for two years, join us.