LG: Advocates Demand Action on NYS Solitary Confinement Policy

NYAPRS Note: “The cell walls start wavering... everything in the cell starts moving; you feel that you are losing your vision”. “I overhear guards talking. Did they say that? Yes? No? It gets confusing. Am I losing my mind?” “you get sensitive to noise. The plumbing system... the water rushes through the pipes- it’s too loud, gets on your nerves. I can’t stand it.” “I can’t stand the smells of the food”. These are some of the horrific impacts of the use of solitary confinement, as collected by famed Harvard Professor Stuart Grassian in 1983. He shared findings that show that thousands who didn’t have psychiatric symptoms before they were placed in solitary confinement left with full blown conditions.

But thousands of people who are confined to terribly euphemistic ‘special housing units’ or SHUs came into prison or jail with serious mental health conditions and the results, causing untold suffering and sometimes suicide.  

That’s why NYAPRS members and staff joined with a broad array of prisoners’ rights and mental health advocacy groups to win passage of the SHU Exclusion Law in 2008.

But, while the law generated numerous improvements, almost 900 people with mental health conditions live in solitary confinements in NY right now.  

And that’s why we have been working closely with our colleagues from the Campaign for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (http://nycaic.org/) and other groups to see HALT legislation approved in New York that would prohibit the segregation of young and elderly people, people with physical or mental disabilities, pregnant women, new mothers, LGBTQI individuals, place a limit of 15 consecutive days and a limit of 20 total days in a 60 day period on the amount of time any person can spend in segregated confinement and create new Residential Rehabilitation Units as a more humane and effective alternative to provide segregated confinement and one that provides meaningful human contact and therapeutic, trauma-informed, and rehabilitative programs.

Yesterday, advocates including NYAPRS’ Elena Kravitz joined around a SHU replica in the state’s Legislative Office Building to call on legislative leaders and the Governor to pass and sign HALT legislation, (A.3080B/S.4784A) sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Kevin Parker (see video at http://cbs6albany.com/news/local/advocates-call-for-15-day-maximum-in-solitary-confinement.

NYAPRS will continue to work tirelessly until HALT legislation is approved and until a more humane New York provides treatment not torture to our neighbors and loved ones in need. Please join us and look for upcoming alerts and actions.

Legislators Join Prisoners, Families Hoping To Limit Solitary Confinement

By David Tregaskis, Legislative Gazette May 16, 2018

Lawmakers, survivors of solitary confinements and family members of prisoners are pushing for the enactment of the Human Alternative to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act to put an end to solitary confinement “torture.”

The HALT legislation, (A.3080B/S.4784A) sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Corona, and Senator Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, would limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement.

The purpose of the bill is to, among other things, create more humane and effective alternatives to confinement and restrict the required criteria which can lead to solitary.

Assemblyman Aubry, the former Assembly Corrections chair, said that to make communities and prisons safer, the process of torturing people under the guidelines of punishment needs to end.

“Torture is not what we’re supposed to be about. We may want people to change their behavior, we may need to put people away from the rest of society in order to effect that change, but we do not need to torture them,” Aubry said. “We do not need to feed them the loaf, we do not need to put them in places where they fight for their sanity and that’s what the whole bill will do.”

The bill would also set provisions, like imposing a 15 consecutive day limit to solitary confinement or 20 days total in a 60 day time period, and prohibit the use of special diets as punishment.

Victor Pate, organizer for the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and a former inmate who endured solitary confinement, notes that Colorado has implement a 15 day limit to solitary in its prisons and reduced the number of prisoners in solitary from 1,500 to 18.

“According to the U.N. General Assembly, the Mandela Rule states that no one shall be held in any long term solitary confinement past 15 days, and if that does happen, it is considered torture,” Pate said.

The replica solitary confinement cell was unveiled in the entrance Legislative Office Building on Wednesday at a press event with lawmakers, former prisoners, their families and other supporters. The were hoping passers-by, other lawmakers, and maybe even the governor would spend some time inside the cell to experience solitary confinement, even temporarily.

Jerome Wright, a former inmate who experienced solitary confinement, said he is challenging the governor and the commissioner of the Department of Corrections to spend 24 hours in the cell to see what solitary feels like.

Doug van Zandt, who built the replica cell, talked about his own son Benjamin who was charged with grand larceny and reckless endangerment and imprisoned. Benjamin, who was mentally ill, was placed in solitary confinement without treatment and committed suicide.

“The punitive measures used against him in prison, including solitary confinement were absolutely wrong, it was a cell just like this, that he spent the last minutes of his life,” van Zandt said. “He hanged himself after he was taken off his medications by the prison staff and he was left to rot in a cell like this.”


Advocates Call For 15-Day Maximum In Solitary Confinement

by J.T. Fetch  CBS6 May 16th 2018

ALBANY, NY - There is a group calling for Governor Cuomo to go to prison... Not for any crime he committed, but to see just what those who are put in solitary confinement have to go through.

The lobby of the Legislative Office Building turned into a one cell prison today, to call for the passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act.

Supporters of the bill say this will reform the current system, where thousands remain in solitary in New York’s prisons 22 to even 24 hours a day with no real human contact.

Reform advocates say this leads to profound psychological and physical damage. they want a 15-day limit on solitary, and create humane alternatives.

They also want Governor Cuomo to spend 24 hours in solitary in one of the state’s prisons, so he can see for himself what it’s like.

“I was put in solitary confinement for 28 days - you have very little property in your cell, you don’t know what time it is. Anytime you leave the cell, you’re in handcuffs,” said Jeffrey Deskovic, who says he was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years.

Supporters say they have data that shows more than 30% of all prison suicides in New York take place in solitary. Reforms have taken place already in Colorado, where there is a 15 day limit for solitary confinement.