Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/solitary-confinement 2017-10-19T19:44:36+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Leading the Way on Ending Punitive Segregation 2016-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6566:leading-the-way-on-ending-punitive-segregation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29104859470_e77b7342a2_z.jpg" alt="Ponte Rikers de Blasio" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Commissioner Ponte, the author, &amp; Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Today, the New York City Department of Correction formally ended the practice of punitive segregation for young adults ages 19 through 21 years old, resulting in the complete elimination of punitive segregation, which some call solitary confinement, for inmates ages 16 through 21 in our custody. This is an unprecedented milestone in New York State correctional history and, even more important, across the nation. To date, no other city or state has accomplished comparable punitive-segregation reforms for the 19-21 year-old age group.</p> <p>As Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, I understand this has not been easy, and something that has required us to methodically implement, test, and refine options that ensure the safety of our staff and inmates. However, I am extremely proud of what our uniform and non-uniform staff have accomplished by reforming our punitive-segregation practices and policies.</p> <p>When I became Commissioner in April 2014, there were almost 600 people in punitive segregation and a backlog of over 1,700 people. And violence in our jails was on the rise. On October 6, we had 124 inmates in all forms of punitive housing -- a reduction of nearly 80% over two years. We accomplished this by creating non-punitive, incentive-based alternatives to safely manage inmate behavior.</p> <p>And we have done all this while still reducing violence in our jails.</p> <p>We started our reforms even before the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, issued a report in August 2014 that concluded that &ldquo;DOC relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measure&rdquo; and before we negotiated the agreement in the federal lawsuit Nunez v. City of New York, which was approved by a judge in October 2015.</p> <p>Through a raft of initiatives, we fundamentally transformed the use of punitive segregation for all age groups.</p> <p>When we ended punitive segregation for adolescent inmates aged 16-17 in December 2014, and later, for 18-year-old inmates in June 2016, we created therapeutic alternatives to help them manage their behavior.</p> <p>For the adolescents, these comprise Second Chance Housing and Transitional Restorative Units (TRU), which feature higher staffing levels &ndash; one officer to five inmates in Second Chance and one to two or even one to one in TRU. The officers in these units receive training on youth brain development, crisis prevention and management, and trauma-informed care practices for adolescents.</p> <p>Inmates in these programs are afforded enhanced programming and counseling to better their life skills and job prospects and a behaviorally based incentive system enables them to earn privileges and commissary points.</p> <p>For young adults aged 18-21, we have also created Second Chance and TRU units, but we have added two levels of management.</p> <p>&ldquo;Secure Housing&rdquo; is designed to safely house young adults who are engaging in serious violence and assaultive behavior -- closely supervising them while providing individualized therapeutic programming for their behavioral needs.</p> <p>For persistently violent young adult offenders, such as those who have seriously assaulted staff or stabbed or slashed other inmates, we have created special young adult units of Enhanced Supervision Housing, where inmates spend seven structured hours daily out of cell. Similar to adolescents, they are provided a behaviorally based incentive system that enables them to earn more privileges and eventually move back into the general population.</p> <p>Using punitive segregation less means using it as a more targeted and meaningful tool.<br />Through rule-making with our partners at the Board of Correction, our oversight body, we have made punitive segregation more effective and fair.</p> <p>Inmates no longer serve any time that was accrued during a previous incarceration. A tiered system ensures that only serious, violent infractions earn full punitive-segregation time.<br />With few exceptions, we have capped the maximum sentence to 30 days and have limited the number of days one can spend in segregation to 60 days in any single six-month period.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s a significant accomplishment to have done this while continuing to push a downward trend in violence throughout the Department through comprehensive reform.</p> <p>In the first eight months of the year, from January to August, the most serious assaults on staff have dropped 40% compared to the same period last year. Overall assaults on staff dropped 17% in that period. Even one assault on our staff is one too many, so we have a lot of work to do, but the trend is moving in the right direction.</p> <p>These reforms also increase inmate safety. Uses of force by officers on inmates that result in serious injury dropped by 40% in the first eight months of the year, largely because of our de-escalation training.</p> <p>The bottom line is that, contrary to the assertions of some, you don&rsquo;t need overwhelming numbers of inmates in punitive segregation to make jails safer. Heavy use of segregation does not prevent violence or deter it, particularly in the younger age groups. In fact, it may make matters worse. The latest research on brain development shows that punitive segregation is inappropriate for individuals aged 21 and under.</p> <p>In New York, we are proud to have made history by ending punitive segregation for our youngest offenders and curtailing its overuse for all others &ndash; all while providing safer alternatives that support both staff and inmates.</p> <p>***<br />Joseph Ponte is New York City Correction Commissioner. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CorrectionNYC" target="_blank">@CorrectionNYC</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29104859470_e77b7342a2_z.jpg" alt="Ponte Rikers de Blasio" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Commissioner Ponte, the author, &amp; Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Today, the New York City Department of Correction formally ended the practice of punitive segregation for young adults ages 19 through 21 years old, resulting in the complete elimination of punitive segregation, which some call solitary confinement, for inmates ages 16 through 21 in our custody. This is an unprecedented milestone in New York State correctional history and, even more important, across the nation. To date, no other city or state has accomplished comparable punitive-segregation reforms for the 19-21 year-old age group.</p> <p>As Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, I understand this has not been easy, and something that has required us to methodically implement, test, and refine options that ensure the safety of our staff and inmates. However, I am extremely proud of what our uniform and non-uniform staff have accomplished by reforming our punitive-segregation practices and policies.</p> <p>When I became Commissioner in April 2014, there were almost 600 people in punitive segregation and a backlog of over 1,700 people. And violence in our jails was on the rise. On October 6, we had 124 inmates in all forms of punitive housing -- a reduction of nearly 80% over two years. We accomplished this by creating non-punitive, incentive-based alternatives to safely manage inmate behavior.</p> <p>And we have done all this while still reducing violence in our jails.</p> <p>We started our reforms even before the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, issued a report in August 2014 that concluded that &ldquo;DOC relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measure&rdquo; and before we negotiated the agreement in the federal lawsuit Nunez v. City of New York, which was approved by a judge in October 2015.</p> <p>Through a raft of initiatives, we fundamentally transformed the use of punitive segregation for all age groups.</p> <p>When we ended punitive segregation for adolescent inmates aged 16-17 in December 2014, and later, for 18-year-old inmates in June 2016, we created therapeutic alternatives to help them manage their behavior.</p> <p>For the adolescents, these comprise Second Chance Housing and Transitional Restorative Units (TRU), which feature higher staffing levels &ndash; one officer to five inmates in Second Chance and one to two or even one to one in TRU. The officers in these units receive training on youth brain development, crisis prevention and management, and trauma-informed care practices for adolescents.</p> <p>Inmates in these programs are afforded enhanced programming and counseling to better their life skills and job prospects and a behaviorally based incentive system enables them to earn privileges and commissary points.</p> <p>For young adults aged 18-21, we have also created Second Chance and TRU units, but we have added two levels of management.</p> <p>&ldquo;Secure Housing&rdquo; is designed to safely house young adults who are engaging in serious violence and assaultive behavior -- closely supervising them while providing individualized therapeutic programming for their behavioral needs.</p> <p>For persistently violent young adult offenders, such as those who have seriously assaulted staff or stabbed or slashed other inmates, we have created special young adult units of Enhanced Supervision Housing, where inmates spend seven structured hours daily out of cell. Similar to adolescents, they are provided a behaviorally based incentive system that enables them to earn more privileges and eventually move back into the general population.</p> <p>Using punitive segregation less means using it as a more targeted and meaningful tool.<br />Through rule-making with our partners at the Board of Correction, our oversight body, we have made punitive segregation more effective and fair.</p> <p>Inmates no longer serve any time that was accrued during a previous incarceration. A tiered system ensures that only serious, violent infractions earn full punitive-segregation time.<br />With few exceptions, we have capped the maximum sentence to 30 days and have limited the number of days one can spend in segregation to 60 days in any single six-month period.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s a significant accomplishment to have done this while continuing to push a downward trend in violence throughout the Department through comprehensive reform.</p> <p>In the first eight months of the year, from January to August, the most serious assaults on staff have dropped 40% compared to the same period last year. Overall assaults on staff dropped 17% in that period. Even one assault on our staff is one too many, so we have a lot of work to do, but the trend is moving in the right direction.</p> <p>These reforms also increase inmate safety. Uses of force by officers on inmates that result in serious injury dropped by 40% in the first eight months of the year, largely because of our de-escalation training.</p> <p>The bottom line is that, contrary to the assertions of some, you don&rsquo;t need overwhelming numbers of inmates in punitive segregation to make jails safer. Heavy use of segregation does not prevent violence or deter it, particularly in the younger age groups. In fact, it may make matters worse. The latest research on brain development shows that punitive segregation is inappropriate for individuals aged 21 and under.</p> <p>In New York, we are proud to have made history by ending punitive segregation for our youngest offenders and curtailing its overuse for all others &ndash; all while providing safer alternatives that support both staff and inmates.</p> <p>***<br />Joseph Ponte is New York City Correction Commissioner. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CorrectionNYC" target="_blank">@CorrectionNYC</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Jail Abuse, Lawsuit Show Need to ‘Raise the Age’ 2016-09-26T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6549:jail-abuse-lawsuit-show-need-to-raise-the-age Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/raise_the_age_five_protesters.jpg" alt="raise the age five protesters" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">"Raise the Age" advocates (photo: Correctional Association)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff&rsquo;s Office in Syracuse for placing juveniles in solitary confinement. According to the suit, children aged 16 and 17 have been subjected to extended and arbitrary solitary confinement for up to months at a time despite mental health and personal safety concerns. These practices continue in Onondaga County despite the fact the both New York State prisons and New York City jails have banned it. And just this summer the Obama administration also banned the solitary confinement of juveniles in the federal prison system.</p> <p dir="ltr">In December 2014 the New York State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I sit, released a <a href="http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/NY-SAC-Solitary-Confinement-Report-without-Cover.pdf">report</a> calling for the elimination of solitary confinement for everyone under the age of 25 in New York City and across New York State. We interviewed young people who had been in solitary, toured facilities, heard from experts in the field, and reviewed the existing academic literature and found that these practices are extremely detrimental to the health of young people and do little if anything to make either jails or communities any safer. In fact, spending time in solitary confinement is correlated with higher recidivism rates upon release. There is no evidence that the use of solitary reduces violence in prisons or jails.</p> <p dir="ltr">We also found that while solitary is an extreme and damaging punishment for adults, it is especially harmful to juveniles given that their brains are still developing and they may not have the same coping skills of a more mature adult. We need only look at the case of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending almost two years in solitary at Rikers Island as a juvenile.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout the country juvenile facilities have banned the use of solitary confinement. It continues to be practiced only in a handful of places that place juveniles in adult facilities -- something New York is phasing out even though it remains just one of two states in the country to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Alleged abuses in Syracuse are even more reason for New York to &ldquo;raise the age&rdquo; of adult criminal responsibility, a push that has languished in the state Legislature, largely due to State Senate Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">The NYCLU lawsuit is on behalf of six black and Latino young people who have been subjected to assaults, sexual harassment, threats, and denial of educational access over the most minor infractions or at the whim of guards. Here are some of the details of the individual plaintiffs who are identified by an initial because they are juveniles:</p> <p dir="ltr">--R is currently in solitary, in part for singing a Whitney Houston song in his cell. In solitary, guards heard the adult above him shout &ldquo;I&rsquo;m gonna stab you in the showers&rdquo; and threatening sexual abuse at all hours of the night, and they responded by moving the adult directly next to him. Yesterday that same adult used a cup to throw his urine in R&rsquo;s face during recreation.</p> <p dir="ltr">--V is currently in solitary, and has not been able to change his clothes since September 8. A pre-trial detainee who has never been convicted of a crime, he nonetheless has spent over 115 days in solitary.</p> <p dir="ltr">--C, currently at the Justice Center, once tried to file a grievance in solitary, and a guard drew a penis on his form before throwing it away. &ldquo;Being in the box changes you. It makes you do things like think about jumping off your table into the ground,&rdquo; C said.</p> <p dir="ltr">--M, currently at the jail, has been sent to solitary for reasons including wearing his shower shoes at the wrong time. A deputy once responded to his complaints by threatening to &ldquo;bash [his] skull in.&rdquo; After being in solitary, M now finds it hard to even be in a regular cell for any period of time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Onondaga County needs to ban the practice of putting juveniles in solitary confinement, this problem could also be eliminated if the state Legislature would pass the &ldquo;raise the age&rdquo; bill. Treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system is an inexcusable policy based on the politics of retribution and the hysteria over youthful predators that surfaced in the 1990s, just as juvenile violent crime rates plummeted.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://raisetheageny.com/get-the-facts">Raise the Age NY</a>, the campaign to raise the age that has helped bring the issue to a boiling point, including support from Governor Andrew Cuomo:</p> <p dir="ltr">--Studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system.&nbsp; Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend often going on to commit more serious crimes</p> <p dir="ltr">--Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and nearly 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children placed in youth facilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth in adult prisons are often placed in solitary confinement. The isolation young people face in adult facilities is destructive to their mental health and can cause irreparable harm.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.</p> <p>Last year the State Assembly passed a raise the age bill, only to see it blocked by the Senate. It&rsquo;s time for the Legislature and the governor to act on this issue as well as put pressure on Onondaga County to join the rest of the state in banning this cruel and counterproductive practice.</p> <p>***<br />Alex S. Vitale is&nbsp;associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of <em>City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics</em>. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/avitale" target="_blank">@avitale</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/raise_the_age_five_protesters.jpg" alt="raise the age five protesters" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">"Raise the Age" advocates (photo: Correctional Association)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff&rsquo;s Office in Syracuse for placing juveniles in solitary confinement. According to the suit, children aged 16 and 17 have been subjected to extended and arbitrary solitary confinement for up to months at a time despite mental health and personal safety concerns. These practices continue in Onondaga County despite the fact the both New York State prisons and New York City jails have banned it. And just this summer the Obama administration also banned the solitary confinement of juveniles in the federal prison system.</p> <p dir="ltr">In December 2014 the New York State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I sit, released a <a href="http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/NY-SAC-Solitary-Confinement-Report-without-Cover.pdf">report</a> calling for the elimination of solitary confinement for everyone under the age of 25 in New York City and across New York State. We interviewed young people who had been in solitary, toured facilities, heard from experts in the field, and reviewed the existing academic literature and found that these practices are extremely detrimental to the health of young people and do little if anything to make either jails or communities any safer. In fact, spending time in solitary confinement is correlated with higher recidivism rates upon release. There is no evidence that the use of solitary reduces violence in prisons or jails.</p> <p dir="ltr">We also found that while solitary is an extreme and damaging punishment for adults, it is especially harmful to juveniles given that their brains are still developing and they may not have the same coping skills of a more mature adult. We need only look at the case of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending almost two years in solitary at Rikers Island as a juvenile.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout the country juvenile facilities have banned the use of solitary confinement. It continues to be practiced only in a handful of places that place juveniles in adult facilities -- something New York is phasing out even though it remains just one of two states in the country to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Alleged abuses in Syracuse are even more reason for New York to &ldquo;raise the age&rdquo; of adult criminal responsibility, a push that has languished in the state Legislature, largely due to State Senate Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">The NYCLU lawsuit is on behalf of six black and Latino young people who have been subjected to assaults, sexual harassment, threats, and denial of educational access over the most minor infractions or at the whim of guards. Here are some of the details of the individual plaintiffs who are identified by an initial because they are juveniles:</p> <p dir="ltr">--R is currently in solitary, in part for singing a Whitney Houston song in his cell. In solitary, guards heard the adult above him shout &ldquo;I&rsquo;m gonna stab you in the showers&rdquo; and threatening sexual abuse at all hours of the night, and they responded by moving the adult directly next to him. Yesterday that same adult used a cup to throw his urine in R&rsquo;s face during recreation.</p> <p dir="ltr">--V is currently in solitary, and has not been able to change his clothes since September 8. A pre-trial detainee who has never been convicted of a crime, he nonetheless has spent over 115 days in solitary.</p> <p dir="ltr">--C, currently at the Justice Center, once tried to file a grievance in solitary, and a guard drew a penis on his form before throwing it away. &ldquo;Being in the box changes you. It makes you do things like think about jumping off your table into the ground,&rdquo; C said.</p> <p dir="ltr">--M, currently at the jail, has been sent to solitary for reasons including wearing his shower shoes at the wrong time. A deputy once responded to his complaints by threatening to &ldquo;bash [his] skull in.&rdquo; After being in solitary, M now finds it hard to even be in a regular cell for any period of time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Onondaga County needs to ban the practice of putting juveniles in solitary confinement, this problem could also be eliminated if the state Legislature would pass the &ldquo;raise the age&rdquo; bill. Treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system is an inexcusable policy based on the politics of retribution and the hysteria over youthful predators that surfaced in the 1990s, just as juvenile violent crime rates plummeted.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://raisetheageny.com/get-the-facts">Raise the Age NY</a>, the campaign to raise the age that has helped bring the issue to a boiling point, including support from Governor Andrew Cuomo:</p> <p dir="ltr">--Studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system.&nbsp; Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend often going on to commit more serious crimes</p> <p dir="ltr">--Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and nearly 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children placed in youth facilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth in adult prisons are often placed in solitary confinement. The isolation young people face in adult facilities is destructive to their mental health and can cause irreparable harm.</p> <p dir="ltr">--Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.</p> <p>Last year the State Assembly passed a raise the age bill, only to see it blocked by the Senate. It&rsquo;s time for the Legislature and the governor to act on this issue as well as put pressure on Onondaga County to join the rest of the state in banning this cruel and counterproductive practice.</p> <p>***<br />Alex S. Vitale is&nbsp;associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of <em>City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics</em>. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/avitale" target="_blank">@avitale</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Another Legislative Session Ends with Thousands Still in Solitary 2016-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6415:another-legislative-session-ends-with-thousands-still-in-solitary Amanda Sherwin <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/5685335098_c082a1d534_z.jpg" alt="prison photo bob" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobjagendorf/5685335098/" target="_blank">photo: Bob Jagendorf</a></p> <hr /> <p>Earlier this month, I saw <a href="http://www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa/" target="_blank">Mariposa &amp; the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, A Play Through Letters</a>. Actress and activist Julia Steele Allen plays Sara Foneseca, or Mariposa, as she is referred to in the play, and uses Mariposa&rsquo;s own words to express her experiences in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at a women&rsquo;s prison in California. For the past ten years the two women have been corresponding through letters; the play is a collaboration that grew from this communication.</p> <p>In one of the most disturbing parts of the play, Mariposa shares in a letter to Allen that a woman in the prison has committed suicide. Mariposa seems frantic and in shock at the calm response from the prison personnel. She exclaims there was no sense of urgency. It seems, she says, as if they were saying, &ldquo;nothing to see here folks, just your average, run of the mill, scheduled suicide.&rdquo; Mariposa tries to keep her spirits up although it is evident that she is slowly fading. At one point in the play she explains she refused to leave her cell -- even to shower -- for eight months.</p> <p>The performance was followed by a workshop discussion on the issue of solitary confinement during which Regina, who was incarcerated in Albion Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York, shared horror stories of her own experiences in &ldquo;the box.&rdquo; She noted that many of her peers were not even allowed to send or receive letters, practices considered privilege and meted out by the guards, despite being one of the only forms of human communication they had left.</p> <p>There are 2.5 million people incarcerated today in the United States, and while it&rsquo;s rare for the experiences of these people to be given a public viewing such as Mariposa provides, public demands to reform prison conditions and to end mass incarceration are growing. As are calls to end the torturous practice of solitary confinement.</p> <p>Allen has brought &ldquo;Mariposa &amp; the Saint&rdquo; on a national tour of eight states, including New York, which all have active campaigns and pending legislation to end or reform the conditions of solitary confinement. Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A. 4401/S. 2659) is a piece of legislation that has yet to pass through the New York State Legislature, despite being introduced for years. This bill would create substantive alternatives to solitary confinement, place strict limitations on the use and permitted durations of confinement, and improve due process protections for people facing disciplinary infractions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://nycaic.org" target="_blank">Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement in New York (CAIC)</a>, a community group consisting of advocates, legal service providers, formerly incarcerated community members, and family members, has supported the HALT Solitary Confinement Act since 2014.</p> <p>Last month, &ldquo;Mariposa &amp; the Saint&rdquo; was performed for members of the state Legislature, hosted by the Women of Color Sub-Committee of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, &amp; Asian Legislative caucus including Assemblymembers Maritza Davila and Latoya Joyner, along with Assemblymember Jeffrion L. Aubry, and state Senator Bill Perkins. Additionally, in early May, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z99h989IHb0&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">CAIC organized a lobby day</a> which resulted in HALT now boasting more than 60 sponsors in the Assembly. Despite this support, the bill did not pass this year and remained in the Assembly&rsquo;s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction committee until the end of the session. What was left out of the final Albany deals earlier this month was prison reform for thousands in solitary confinement, which has been denounced by Pope Francis, the <a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf" target="_blank">United Nations Special Rapporteur</a>, and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/barack-obama-why-we-must-rethink-solitary-confinement/2016/01/25/29a361f2-c384-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html" target="_blank">President Obama</a>.</p> <p>The play was performed on Friday, June 10 at The New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx, located in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie&rsquo;s home district in hopes of adding pressure to the Speaker so that he would use his authority to bring HALT to a vote before the session ended.</p> <p>Solitary confinement is torture and can lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences such as depression, alienation, suicide, and withdrawal. Solitary Watch estimates <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/facts/faq/" target="_blank">80,000 to 100,000 incarcerated people</a> are held in some form of isolated confinement at any time in the United States, most spending 23 or more hours a day in their cells. Dr. Terry Kupers told The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/health/solitary-confinement-mental-illness.html?mwrsm=Email&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, &ldquo;many [formerly incarcerated individuals] still carried the psychological legacy of their confinement.&rdquo;</p> <p>New York State legislators did not act to reform the torture happening in their state prisons. Governor Cuomo, state legislators, and all New Yorkers must see and say that solitary is torture. It is time that we all demand reforms to end, or at least significantly limit, the use of solitary here in New York.</p> <p>***<br />Jennie Encalada is a Brooklyn-based social worker and activist. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/jenjeno07" target="_blank">@jenjeno07</a>.&nbsp;Mariposa &amp; the Saint completed it's 2015-2016 national tour this June, <a href="http://www.juliasteeleallen.com" target="_blank">but has further plans</a>.&nbsp;Learn more about <a href="http://www.NYCAIC.org" target="_blank">the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement</a> (CAIC).</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/5685335098_c082a1d534_z.jpg" alt="prison photo bob" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobjagendorf/5685335098/" target="_blank">photo: Bob Jagendorf</a></p> <hr /> <p>Earlier this month, I saw <a href="http://www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa/" target="_blank">Mariposa &amp; the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, A Play Through Letters</a>. Actress and activist Julia Steele Allen plays Sara Foneseca, or Mariposa, as she is referred to in the play, and uses Mariposa&rsquo;s own words to express her experiences in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at a women&rsquo;s prison in California. For the past ten years the two women have been corresponding through letters; the play is a collaboration that grew from this communication.</p> <p>In one of the most disturbing parts of the play, Mariposa shares in a letter to Allen that a woman in the prison has committed suicide. Mariposa seems frantic and in shock at the calm response from the prison personnel. She exclaims there was no sense of urgency. It seems, she says, as if they were saying, &ldquo;nothing to see here folks, just your average, run of the mill, scheduled suicide.&rdquo; Mariposa tries to keep her spirits up although it is evident that she is slowly fading. At one point in the play she explains she refused to leave her cell -- even to shower -- for eight months.</p> <p>The performance was followed by a workshop discussion on the issue of solitary confinement during which Regina, who was incarcerated in Albion Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York, shared horror stories of her own experiences in &ldquo;the box.&rdquo; She noted that many of her peers were not even allowed to send or receive letters, practices considered privilege and meted out by the guards, despite being one of the only forms of human communication they had left.</p> <p>There are 2.5 million people incarcerated today in the United States, and while it&rsquo;s rare for the experiences of these people to be given a public viewing such as Mariposa provides, public demands to reform prison conditions and to end mass incarceration are growing. As are calls to end the torturous practice of solitary confinement.</p> <p>Allen has brought &ldquo;Mariposa &amp; the Saint&rdquo; on a national tour of eight states, including New York, which all have active campaigns and pending legislation to end or reform the conditions of solitary confinement. Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A. 4401/S. 2659) is a piece of legislation that has yet to pass through the New York State Legislature, despite being introduced for years. This bill would create substantive alternatives to solitary confinement, place strict limitations on the use and permitted durations of confinement, and improve due process protections for people facing disciplinary infractions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://nycaic.org" target="_blank">Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement in New York (CAIC)</a>, a community group consisting of advocates, legal service providers, formerly incarcerated community members, and family members, has supported the HALT Solitary Confinement Act since 2014.</p> <p>Last month, &ldquo;Mariposa &amp; the Saint&rdquo; was performed for members of the state Legislature, hosted by the Women of Color Sub-Committee of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, &amp; Asian Legislative caucus including Assemblymembers Maritza Davila and Latoya Joyner, along with Assemblymember Jeffrion L. Aubry, and state Senator Bill Perkins. Additionally, in early May, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z99h989IHb0&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">CAIC organized a lobby day</a> which resulted in HALT now boasting more than 60 sponsors in the Assembly. Despite this support, the bill did not pass this year and remained in the Assembly&rsquo;s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction committee until the end of the session. What was left out of the final Albany deals earlier this month was prison reform for thousands in solitary confinement, which has been denounced by Pope Francis, the <a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf" target="_blank">United Nations Special Rapporteur</a>, and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/barack-obama-why-we-must-rethink-solitary-confinement/2016/01/25/29a361f2-c384-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html" target="_blank">President Obama</a>.</p> <p>The play was performed on Friday, June 10 at The New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx, located in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie&rsquo;s home district in hopes of adding pressure to the Speaker so that he would use his authority to bring HALT to a vote before the session ended.</p> <p>Solitary confinement is torture and can lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences such as depression, alienation, suicide, and withdrawal. Solitary Watch estimates <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/facts/faq/" target="_blank">80,000 to 100,000 incarcerated people</a> are held in some form of isolated confinement at any time in the United States, most spending 23 or more hours a day in their cells. Dr. Terry Kupers told The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/health/solitary-confinement-mental-illness.html?mwrsm=Email&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, &ldquo;many [formerly incarcerated individuals] still carried the psychological legacy of their confinement.&rdquo;</p> <p>New York State legislators did not act to reform the torture happening in their state prisons. Governor Cuomo, state legislators, and all New Yorkers must see and say that solitary is torture. It is time that we all demand reforms to end, or at least significantly limit, the use of solitary here in New York.</p> <p>***<br />Jennie Encalada is a Brooklyn-based social worker and activist. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/jenjeno07" target="_blank">@jenjeno07</a>.&nbsp;Mariposa &amp; the Saint completed it's 2015-2016 national tour this June, <a href="http://www.juliasteeleallen.com" target="_blank">but has further plans</a>.&nbsp;Learn more about <a href="http://www.NYCAIC.org" target="_blank">the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement</a> (CAIC).</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Advocates Rally to Keep Solitary Confinement in Spotlight 2015-09-01T20:36:22+00:00 2015-09-01T20:36:22+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5867:advocates-rally-to-keep-solitary-confinement-in-spotlight Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/solitary_confinement_rally.jpg" alt="solitary confinement rally" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">A rally to reform solitary confinement rules (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCAIC/status/617160672598556672" target="_blank">photo</a>: @NYCAIC)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Last November he United Nations committee on torture found that the United States was not in compliance with its Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment because of excessive use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country.</p> <p>The UN found that use of solitary confinement of over 15 days amounts to torture. Nearly a year later New York state has no limit on how long an inmate can be held in solitary--some have served decades. With increasing focus on the conditions in prisons, New York is struggling to address flaws in its prison system that has led to deaths and that advocates say does irreversible mental and physical damage to inmates.</p> <p>Up to 5,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement at one time in New York. Inmates in solitary spend 23 hours a day in an empty room with no outside contact. The brutal conditions faced by those subjected to this form of punishment, especially at New York City's most notorious jail, Rikers Island, have been splashed across front pages, the subject of major lawsuits and federal investigations, and the topic of debate throughout all levels of government.</p> <p>Rikers has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/nyregion/new-york-city-to-end-solitary-confinement-for-inmates-21-and-under-at-rikers.html" target="_blank">banned</a> the use of solitary for inmates under 18 years of age and a plan is in the works to disallow the placement of anyone 21 and younger, moves made following a scathing federal <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-finds-pattern-and-practice-excessive-force-and-violence-nyc-jails" target="_blank">report</a> from the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Yet, bills that would limit the length of solitary confinement and who can be held in solitary have sat stagnant in the state legislature.</p> <p>Activists hope to change that with a series of protests held on the 23rd of each month at locations across New York City. The rallies are held on the 23rd to draw focus to the fact that prisoners are held in solitary for 23 hours a day.</p> <p>So far The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement have held two rallies. Their second rally, held in Rose Hill Park in the Bronx, aimed to relay the experience of Nicholas Zimmerman, an inmate in Attica who has been held in solitary confinement for the last ten of his 12 years in prison.</p> <p>Zimmerman told advocates: "Since being in The SHU [Special Housing Unit], I have had a stroke, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I have tried to commit suicide twice, and very often get these thoughts, but I fight really hard to keep my mind!"</p> <p>Advocates have focused on relaying the human experience of being in solitary confinement as a way of getting the public to understand what it does to inmates and their families. Megan Crowe-Rothstein of The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement said that the rallies have been about keeping the issue alive in the grassroots by creating more understanding.</p> <p>"People really become interested when they hear what [solitary confinement] does to people and their families--especially when it comes from people who have suffered and are brave enough to share their stories," said Crowe-Rothstein.</p> <p>Supporters of solitary confinement, like the city's corrections officer union, say it is an important tool to protect guards and inmates from violence, as well as an effective behavioral tool. "You run a red light, you pay a ticket," corrections union president Norman Seabrook <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/nyregion/new-law-boosts-oversight-of-use-of-solitary-confinement-at-rikers.html" target="_blank">said</a> at a City Council hearing in June of last year. "You punch an officer in the eye, you go to punitive segregation." (Punitive segregation is the term used for solitary confinement on Rikers.)</p> <p>Advocates charge that the lack of interaction and sensory deprivation created in solitary can lead to severe physical and mental conditions.</p> <p>Their argument is bolstered by the now-famous story of Kalief Browder. Browder was arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and served three years at Rikers after he couldn't post bail, eventually being <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">released without ever being charged</a>. Browder spent nearly two years in solitary while at Rikers and suffered beatings by inmates and guards that were captured on video. Upon release, Browder struggled to put his life back together and eventually killed himself on June 8 of this year. Browder's death led to statements from major politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a major invigoration of grassroots attention on both the bail and confinement aspects of the system.</p> <p>"There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need," de Blasio said in a statement just after Browder's death. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time."</p> <p>Bills that would restrict the use of solitary have been stalled in Albany for years. One piece of pending legislation, called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), would set major restrictions on how the punishment can be used.</p> <p>The bill stipulates that no prisoner could be in solitary for more than a 15-day stretch, or for 20 days in a 60-day period. Prisoners who would be placed in solitary for more than 15 days would instead have to be sent to a separate residential rehabilitation unit with therapy and out-of-cell programming. The bill would ban the use of solitary confinement on prisoners under the age of 22 or above the age of 55, prisoners who are pregnant, who have a mental or physical disability or who are "perceived" to be LGBTQ.</p> <p>This year the bill was referred to the Senate and Assembly corrections committees in January and never voted to the floor. In 2014, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5044-scrutiny-solitary-confinement-rules-grows-prisons-jails" target="_blank">the same fate</a>, as the bill's Assembly sponsor, Assemblymember Jeff Aubry, said the gubernatorial election would stymie any action.</p> <p>A number of legislators concerned with criminal justice issues told Gotham Gazette that it was disheartening that the leadership of their houses did not take up the measures related to solitary given the public's focus on criminal justice issues stoked by police killings of unarmed civilians and deaths at Rikers Island. Legislators asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about angering leadership.</p> <p>Advocates plan to continue their rallies into the next legislative session, giving themselves a head start on lobbying efforts when legislators return to Albany in January. The next rally will take place Wednesday, September 23 - the location has yet to be announced.</p> <p>One of the roadblocks to reforming the state's use of solitary is the city's corrections officers union. Norman Seabrook, president of the 9,000-member union, lobbied hard to keep solitary confinement policy as it was in the city. He threatened to sue the Board of Corrections for every officer that was injured by an inmate after the board banned solitary confinement for those under 21.</p> <p>The city's corrections board is expected to discuss further reforming solitary at upcoming meetings but no action is imminent. "Rikers gets so much attention for good reason," said Crowe-Rothstein, "but there are people in solitary across the state who are suffering and the state must act to change that."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are now banned from being placed in solitary confinement on Rikers Island and that banning those 21-and-under is in the works, but not final, as originally stated.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/solitary_confinement_rally.jpg" alt="solitary confinement rally" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">A rally to reform solitary confinement rules (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCAIC/status/617160672598556672" target="_blank">photo</a>: @NYCAIC)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Last November he United Nations committee on torture found that the United States was not in compliance with its Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment because of excessive use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country.</p> <p>The UN found that use of solitary confinement of over 15 days amounts to torture. Nearly a year later New York state has no limit on how long an inmate can be held in solitary--some have served decades. With increasing focus on the conditions in prisons, New York is struggling to address flaws in its prison system that has led to deaths and that advocates say does irreversible mental and physical damage to inmates.</p> <p>Up to 5,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement at one time in New York. Inmates in solitary spend 23 hours a day in an empty room with no outside contact. The brutal conditions faced by those subjected to this form of punishment, especially at New York City's most notorious jail, Rikers Island, have been splashed across front pages, the subject of major lawsuits and federal investigations, and the topic of debate throughout all levels of government.</p> <p>Rikers has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/nyregion/new-york-city-to-end-solitary-confinement-for-inmates-21-and-under-at-rikers.html" target="_blank">banned</a> the use of solitary for inmates under 18 years of age and a plan is in the works to disallow the placement of anyone 21 and younger, moves made following a scathing federal <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-finds-pattern-and-practice-excessive-force-and-violence-nyc-jails" target="_blank">report</a> from the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Yet, bills that would limit the length of solitary confinement and who can be held in solitary have sat stagnant in the state legislature.</p> <p>Activists hope to change that with a series of protests held on the 23rd of each month at locations across New York City. The rallies are held on the 23rd to draw focus to the fact that prisoners are held in solitary for 23 hours a day.</p> <p>So far The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement have held two rallies. Their second rally, held in Rose Hill Park in the Bronx, aimed to relay the experience of Nicholas Zimmerman, an inmate in Attica who has been held in solitary confinement for the last ten of his 12 years in prison.</p> <p>Zimmerman told advocates: "Since being in The SHU [Special Housing Unit], I have had a stroke, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I have tried to commit suicide twice, and very often get these thoughts, but I fight really hard to keep my mind!"</p> <p>Advocates have focused on relaying the human experience of being in solitary confinement as a way of getting the public to understand what it does to inmates and their families. Megan Crowe-Rothstein of The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement said that the rallies have been about keeping the issue alive in the grassroots by creating more understanding.</p> <p>"People really become interested when they hear what [solitary confinement] does to people and their families--especially when it comes from people who have suffered and are brave enough to share their stories," said Crowe-Rothstein.</p> <p>Supporters of solitary confinement, like the city's corrections officer union, say it is an important tool to protect guards and inmates from violence, as well as an effective behavioral tool. "You run a red light, you pay a ticket," corrections union president Norman Seabrook <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/nyregion/new-law-boosts-oversight-of-use-of-solitary-confinement-at-rikers.html" target="_blank">said</a> at a City Council hearing in June of last year. "You punch an officer in the eye, you go to punitive segregation." (Punitive segregation is the term used for solitary confinement on Rikers.)</p> <p>Advocates charge that the lack of interaction and sensory deprivation created in solitary can lead to severe physical and mental conditions.</p> <p>Their argument is bolstered by the now-famous story of Kalief Browder. Browder was arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and served three years at Rikers after he couldn't post bail, eventually being <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">released without ever being charged</a>. Browder spent nearly two years in solitary while at Rikers and suffered beatings by inmates and guards that were captured on video. Upon release, Browder struggled to put his life back together and eventually killed himself on June 8 of this year. Browder's death led to statements from major politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a major invigoration of grassroots attention on both the bail and confinement aspects of the system.</p> <p>"There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need," de Blasio said in a statement just after Browder's death. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time."</p> <p>Bills that would restrict the use of solitary have been stalled in Albany for years. One piece of pending legislation, called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), would set major restrictions on how the punishment can be used.</p> <p>The bill stipulates that no prisoner could be in solitary for more than a 15-day stretch, or for 20 days in a 60-day period. Prisoners who would be placed in solitary for more than 15 days would instead have to be sent to a separate residential rehabilitation unit with therapy and out-of-cell programming. The bill would ban the use of solitary confinement on prisoners under the age of 22 or above the age of 55, prisoners who are pregnant, who have a mental or physical disability or who are "perceived" to be LGBTQ.</p> <p>This year the bill was referred to the Senate and Assembly corrections committees in January and never voted to the floor. In 2014, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5044-scrutiny-solitary-confinement-rules-grows-prisons-jails" target="_blank">the same fate</a>, as the bill's Assembly sponsor, Assemblymember Jeff Aubry, said the gubernatorial election would stymie any action.</p> <p>A number of legislators concerned with criminal justice issues told Gotham Gazette that it was disheartening that the leadership of their houses did not take up the measures related to solitary given the public's focus on criminal justice issues stoked by police killings of unarmed civilians and deaths at Rikers Island. Legislators asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about angering leadership.</p> <p>Advocates plan to continue their rallies into the next legislative session, giving themselves a head start on lobbying efforts when legislators return to Albany in January. The next rally will take place Wednesday, September 23 - the location has yet to be announced.</p> <p>One of the roadblocks to reforming the state's use of solitary is the city's corrections officers union. Norman Seabrook, president of the 9,000-member union, lobbied hard to keep solitary confinement policy as it was in the city. He threatened to sue the Board of Corrections for every officer that was injured by an inmate after the board banned solitary confinement for those under 21.</p> <p>The city's corrections board is expected to discuss further reforming solitary at upcoming meetings but no action is imminent. "Rikers gets so much attention for good reason," said Crowe-Rothstein, "but there are people in solitary across the state who are suffering and the state must act to change that."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are now banned from being placed in solitary confinement on Rikers Island and that banning those 21-and-under is in the works, but not final, as originally stated.</p> Reforming Solitary Confinement At The City's Biggest Psych Ward — Rikers Island 2013-11-18T02:44:00+00:00 2013-11-18T02:44:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4727:reforming-solitary-confinement-at-the-citys-biggest-psych-ward-nrikers-island Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement.jpg" alt="Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement" width="600" height="510" class="caption" title="Ismael Nazario, who was held in solitary confinement for months as an adolescent at Rikers Island, stands on the block where he now works as a case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn." /></p> <p>NEW YORK —&nbsp;After about three days of being isolated in “the Box” away from his fellow detainees at Rikers Island, Ismael Nazario was beginning to break.</p> <p>"That's when it started to take it's toll,” he said, conjuring memories of his time in punitive segregation —&nbsp;solitary confinement — in one of the nation’s biggest jail complexes. “I was just like, 'Yo, I cannot be here like this.’”</p> <p>In his compact cell, furnished with a toilet and cot, Nazario had little space to move, he recalled in a recent interview. "I just talked to myself, answering myself, pacing back and forth.”</p> <p>Nazario was 16 years old and awaiting trial for robbery the first time he was sent to the Box, he said. According to Nazario, he had been caught with a pouch of tobacco, considered contraband, and was accused of pushing an officer as he tried to dispose of it in the toilet. But the contraband alone would have been enough: both violent and non-violent infractions can land an inmate in punitive segregation. Once there, detainees spend 23 hours per day in their cells.</p> <p>Now a 25-year-old case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn, Nazario said his multiple stays in the Box stayed with him long after he left.</p> <p>“You have this deep rooted anger and frustration from being in the Box, so the first thing somebody says wrong to you or does wrong, looks at you wrong, you're gonna pop off,” he said. Several <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fact-sheet-psychological-effects-final.pdf">studies</a>&nbsp;have found that being confined to a cell for 22 or more hours per day with limited human contact can leave inmates socially and emotionally unstable.</p> <p>After years of criticism from advocates, the city’s practice of isolating detainees through punitive segregation has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and city officials. In recent months, the City Council passed legislation to bring greater transparency to the practice. But perhaps the greatest change will come in the months ahead.</p> <p>Motivated by <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/184998385/Report-to-the-New-York-City-Board-of-Correction">a recent report on solitary confinement at Rikers</a>, the Board of Correction, which oversees the Department of Correction, is seeking to limit the city’s use of the punishment through a slow-moving rulemaking process that could take up to a year. "We're concerned about everybody in solitary confinement, and particularly those with serious mental illness and adolescents," said Dr. Robert Cohen, chair of the Board's committee on punitive segregation.</p> <p>However, the city’s Department of Correction and the mayor's office have rejected the sweeping critique of solitary confinement contained in the report that informed the Board's decision, as well as the report’s recommendation that isolation only be used as punishment in the most extreme cases.</p> <p>In an email, the Department defended punitive segregation as just one part of "a comprehensive continuum of care and control" developed to "ensure everyone’s safety." Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro declined to comment further.</p> <p>The Department has been working towards its own program for reform, however. One major change is already underway: eliminating solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness.</p> <h2>The Push for Reform</h2> <p>In mid-September, members of the Jails Action Coalition rallied outside of a meeting of the Board of Correction at the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>As they awaited a decision from the Board on whether it would attempt to change Rikers' punitive segregation policies, the lawyers, case workers and activists who form the Coalition sang and held a banner that read "Solitary is Torture."</p> <p>The banner invoked Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights,<a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf"></a><a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf">who called</a>&nbsp;more than 15 days in solitary confinement 'torture'&nbsp;and recommended the punishment not be used at all for adolescents and people diagnosed with mental illness.</p> <p>In June, following a petition by the Jails Action Coalition, the Board commissioned an independent investigation into punitive segregation at Rikers.<sup><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#cmnt6" name="cmnt_ref6"></a></sup></p> <p>The study found that punitive segregation sentences at Rikers routinely exceed 15 days and that people with mental illness are disproportionately placed in isolation for breaking the rules. When the researchers visited the city jail over the summer, they found a quarter of the adolescent inmates of 16 and 17 years old in solitary confinement.</p> <p>A separate, recent count by the DOC&nbsp;also revealed that more than one in seven inmates at Rikers is currently being held in isolation — significantly higher than the<a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/"></a><a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/">national average</a>&nbsp;of about one in 25.</p> <h2>Rethinking the City's Largest Psych Ward</h2> <p>Nearly 40 percent&nbsp;of the population at Rikers Island is mentally ill, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">according</a>&nbsp;to the Department of Correction, making it, de facto, the city's largest psychiatric facility.</p> <p>Martin Horn, the city's previous Commissioner of Correction and Probation, said this has posed more than just a disciplinary challenge.</p> <p>"You're asking the jail to take on a role and a responsibility that it was never intended for, it was never physically constructed for, it was never properly equipped for, the staff was never properly trained for, and the staffing patterns were never properly based upon," said Horn, who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>This past month, the DOC launched the Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation at Rikers, which was<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">announced</a>&nbsp;in May as an answer to "widespread concern about the impact that solitary confinement has on the mentally ill."</p> <p>The program places people who break the rules and have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another condition the Department considers a "serious mental illness" in a separate, but more communal setting, where therapy is available.</p> <p>Inmates diagnosed with mental disorders that are not considered "serious" can still be placed in isolated cells for breaking the rules, although they will be offered therapy and incentives for good behavior.</p> <p>The Department <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">expressed hopes</a>&nbsp;that this approach would help remedy the fact&nbsp;that the average stay of a mentally ill inmate at Rikers is twice as long as that of an inmate who has not been diagnosed with a mental illness.</p> <p>But advocates for prisoner rights say the DOC needs to focus on improving the quality of its psychiatric treatment in order for it to be effective.</p> <p>"The way they're trying to provide therapy with a therapist who isn't really engaged reading from a manual, that's just not the way we do it," said attorney Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. Parish has represented several mentally ill inmates at Rikers and is a founding member of the Jails Action Coalition.</p> <p>Parish said inmates who receive therapy while in solitary often meet with the mental health clinician inside their cells.</p> <p>"If you read the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/mental_health_minimum_standards.pdf">[Minimum] Mental Health Standards</a>, there's no way that you can think that adequate mental health treatment could be provided in a punitive environment," Parish said.</p> <h2>Making Solitary Public</h2> <p>There are no public records of the number of people in solitary confinement at Rikers.</p> <p>In April, City Council members Daniel Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley introduced<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement">legislation</a>&nbsp;to require the Department of Correction to publish monthly statistics on punitive segregation.&nbsp;The mayor’s office has declined to comment on the pending legislation.</p> <p>"We need to know who they're putting in solitary, why they're going into solitary, and how long they're staying in solitary," said Dromm, who added he took up the cause after noticing the "very, very detrimental effect" solitary confinement had on a friend who served time at Rikers for drug charges.</p> <p>The punitive segregation capacity at Rikers peaked at 1,035 cells and is now on the decline, according to the DOC.</p> <p>The Department attributed the hundreds of punitive segregation beds added in the last two years to a "long-standing backlog" of unserved time by inmates who have broken the rules. Dromm has introduced a<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation">resolution</a>&nbsp;calling on the Department to end the practice of cashing in on "time owed" in solitary confinement by inmates who return to Rikers after being released.</p> <h2>Is there a way out?</h2> <p>The addition of punitive segregation cells at Rikers has corresponded with a significant increase in violent incidents in the last five years, according to Mayor’s Management Reports between<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf">2008</a>&nbsp;and<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf">2013.</a></p> <p>"Correction officers bear the brunt of it by being assaulted on a daily basis," Norman Seabrook, president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association,<a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers"></a><a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers">told City Limits</a>&nbsp;in March.</p> <p>Both Seabrook and former Commissioner Horn have cited cuts to the number of correction officers at Rikers as part of the problem.</p> <p>There was a decrease in jail violence during Horn’s tenure from 2003 to 2009, which he attributes to a variety of preventive tactics, including the installation of video cameras. "I think it was the result of putting staff resources where they were most needed," Horn said.</p> <p>Still, Horn said that punitive segregation is necessary to maintain order.</p> <p>"If two inmates get in a fight, they have to be separated, they have to be protected from each other. In society, when you break a rule, you go to jail. Punitive segregation is the jail within the jail."</p> <p>Parish suggested that offering inmates more services could also create more alternative punishments for breaking the rules.</p> <p>"The more incentives that you have that people want to be involved in, the more you can make not having access to that one of the potential punishments," she said.</p> <p>Parish acknowledged the need to separate inmates who pose a threat to others, but said the disciplinary system should be "focused on rehabilitation, not locking someone in for 23 hours a day."</p> <p>"As long as we see even one day of that as trivial, as not such a big deal, we're going to have a hard time getting to another place."</p> <p><em>Caroline Lewis is a freelance radio and web journalist working towards a Masters at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Read and listen to her stories <a href="http://carolinelewismedia.com">here</a>.</em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement.jpg" alt="Ismael-Nazario-Solitary-Confinement" width="600" height="510" class="caption" title="Ismael Nazario, who was held in solitary confinement for months as an adolescent at Rikers Island, stands on the block where he now works as a case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn." /></p> <p>NEW YORK —&nbsp;After about three days of being isolated in “the Box” away from his fellow detainees at Rikers Island, Ismael Nazario was beginning to break.</p> <p>"That's when it started to take it's toll,” he said, conjuring memories of his time in punitive segregation —&nbsp;solitary confinement — in one of the nation’s biggest jail complexes. “I was just like, 'Yo, I cannot be here like this.’”</p> <p>In his compact cell, furnished with a toilet and cot, Nazario had little space to move, he recalled in a recent interview. "I just talked to myself, answering myself, pacing back and forth.”</p> <p>Nazario was 16 years old and awaiting trial for robbery the first time he was sent to the Box, he said. According to Nazario, he had been caught with a pouch of tobacco, considered contraband, and was accused of pushing an officer as he tried to dispose of it in the toilet. But the contraband alone would have been enough: both violent and non-violent infractions can land an inmate in punitive segregation. Once there, detainees spend 23 hours per day in their cells.</p> <p>Now a 25-year-old case manager for at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives in Brooklyn, Nazario said his multiple stays in the Box stayed with him long after he left.</p> <p>“You have this deep rooted anger and frustration from being in the Box, so the first thing somebody says wrong to you or does wrong, looks at you wrong, you're gonna pop off,” he said. Several <a href="http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fact-sheet-psychological-effects-final.pdf">studies</a>&nbsp;have found that being confined to a cell for 22 or more hours per day with limited human contact can leave inmates socially and emotionally unstable.</p> <p>After years of criticism from advocates, the city’s practice of isolating detainees through punitive segregation has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and city officials. In recent months, the City Council passed legislation to bring greater transparency to the practice. But perhaps the greatest change will come in the months ahead.</p> <p>Motivated by <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/184998385/Report-to-the-New-York-City-Board-of-Correction">a recent report on solitary confinement at Rikers</a>, the Board of Correction, which oversees the Department of Correction, is seeking to limit the city’s use of the punishment through a slow-moving rulemaking process that could take up to a year. "We're concerned about everybody in solitary confinement, and particularly those with serious mental illness and adolescents," said Dr. Robert Cohen, chair of the Board's committee on punitive segregation.</p> <p>However, the city’s Department of Correction and the mayor's office have rejected the sweeping critique of solitary confinement contained in the report that informed the Board's decision, as well as the report’s recommendation that isolation only be used as punishment in the most extreme cases.</p> <p>In an email, the Department defended punitive segregation as just one part of "a comprehensive continuum of care and control" developed to "ensure everyone’s safety." Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro declined to comment further.</p> <p>The Department has been working towards its own program for reform, however. One major change is already underway: eliminating solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness.</p> <h2>The Push for Reform</h2> <p>In mid-September, members of the Jails Action Coalition rallied outside of a meeting of the Board of Correction at the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>As they awaited a decision from the Board on whether it would attempt to change Rikers' punitive segregation policies, the lawyers, case workers and activists who form the Coalition sang and held a banner that read "Solitary is Torture."</p> <p>The banner invoked Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights,<a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf"></a><a href="http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf">who called</a>&nbsp;more than 15 days in solitary confinement 'torture'&nbsp;and recommended the punishment not be used at all for adolescents and people diagnosed with mental illness.</p> <p>In June, following a petition by the Jails Action Coalition, the Board commissioned an independent investigation into punitive segregation at Rikers.<sup><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#cmnt6" name="cmnt_ref6"></a></sup></p> <p>The study found that punitive segregation sentences at Rikers routinely exceed 15 days and that people with mental illness are disproportionately placed in isolation for breaking the rules. When the researchers visited the city jail over the summer, they found a quarter of the adolescent inmates of 16 and 17 years old in solitary confinement.</p> <p>A separate, recent count by the DOC&nbsp;also revealed that more than one in seven inmates at Rikers is currently being held in isolation — significantly higher than the<a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/"></a><a href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/06/07/board-of-correction-votes-against-limiting-solitary-confinement-in-new-york-city-jails/">national average</a>&nbsp;of about one in 25.</p> <h2>Rethinking the City's Largest Psych Ward</h2> <p>Nearly 40 percent&nbsp;of the population at Rikers Island is mentally ill, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">according</a>&nbsp;to the Department of Correction, making it, de facto, the city's largest psychiatric facility.</p> <p>Martin Horn, the city's previous Commissioner of Correction and Probation, said this has posed more than just a disciplinary challenge.</p> <p>"You're asking the jail to take on a role and a responsibility that it was never intended for, it was never physically constructed for, it was never properly equipped for, the staff was never properly trained for, and the staffing patterns were never properly based upon," said Horn, who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>This past month, the DOC launched the Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation at Rikers, which was<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">announced</a>&nbsp;in May as an answer to "widespread concern about the impact that solitary confinement has on the mentally ill."</p> <p>The program places people who break the rules and have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another condition the Department considers a "serious mental illness" in a separate, but more communal setting, where therapy is available.</p> <p>Inmates diagnosed with mental disorders that are not considered "serious" can still be placed in isolated cells for breaking the rules, although they will be offered therapy and incentives for good behavior.</p> <p>The Department <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/downloads/pdf/NEWS_from_Mental_Health_051313.pdf">expressed hopes</a>&nbsp;that this approach would help remedy the fact&nbsp;that the average stay of a mentally ill inmate at Rikers is twice as long as that of an inmate who has not been diagnosed with a mental illness.</p> <p>But advocates for prisoner rights say the DOC needs to focus on improving the quality of its psychiatric treatment in order for it to be effective.</p> <p>"The way they're trying to provide therapy with a therapist who isn't really engaged reading from a manual, that's just not the way we do it," said attorney Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. Parish has represented several mentally ill inmates at Rikers and is a founding member of the Jails Action Coalition.</p> <p>Parish said inmates who receive therapy while in solitary often meet with the mental health clinician inside their cells.</p> <p>"If you read the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/boc/downloads/pdf/mental_health_minimum_standards.pdf">[Minimum] Mental Health Standards</a>, there's no way that you can think that adequate mental health treatment could be provided in a punitive environment," Parish said.</p> <h2>Making Solitary Public</h2> <p>There are no public records of the number of people in solitary confinement at Rikers.</p> <p>In April, City Council members Daniel Dromm and Elizabeth Crowley introduced<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344634&amp;GUID=A3A68BE3-E965-4221-8B56-B4302EC2400E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=solitary+confinement">legislation</a>&nbsp;to require the Department of Correction to publish monthly statistics on punitive segregation.&nbsp;The mayor’s office has declined to comment on the pending legislation.</p> <p>"We need to know who they're putting in solitary, why they're going into solitary, and how long they're staying in solitary," said Dromm, who added he took up the cause after noticing the "very, very detrimental effect" solitary confinement had on a friend who served time at Rikers for drug charges.</p> <p>The punitive segregation capacity at Rikers peaked at 1,035 cells and is now on the decline, according to the DOC.</p> <p>The Department attributed the hundreds of punitive segregation beds added in the last two years to a "long-standing backlog" of unserved time by inmates who have broken the rules. Dromm has introduced a<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation"></a><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1344636&amp;GUID=6AD28CA8-C858-4B51-B0E2-D5F9D0A14FDA&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=punitive+segregation">resolution</a>&nbsp;calling on the Department to end the practice of cashing in on "time owed" in solitary confinement by inmates who return to Rikers after being released.</p> <h2>Is there a way out?</h2> <p>The addition of punitive segregation cells at Rikers has corresponded with a significant increase in violent incidents in the last five years, according to Mayor’s Management Reports between<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/mmr/0908_mmr.pdf">2008</a>&nbsp;and<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf"></a><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/downloads/pdf/pmmr2013/doc.pdf">2013.</a></p> <p>"Correction officers bear the brunt of it by being assaulted on a daily basis," Norman Seabrook, president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association,<a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers"></a><a href="http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/4559/solitary-confinement-on-the-rise-at-rikers">told City Limits</a>&nbsp;in March.</p> <p>Both Seabrook and former Commissioner Horn have cited cuts to the number of correction officers at Rikers as part of the problem.</p> <p>There was a decrease in jail violence during Horn’s tenure from 2003 to 2009, which he attributes to a variety of preventive tactics, including the installation of video cameras. "I think it was the result of putting staff resources where they were most needed," Horn said.</p> <p>Still, Horn said that punitive segregation is necessary to maintain order.</p> <p>"If two inmates get in a fight, they have to be separated, they have to be protected from each other. In society, when you break a rule, you go to jail. Punitive segregation is the jail within the jail."</p> <p>Parish suggested that offering inmates more services could also create more alternative punishments for breaking the rules.</p> <p>"The more incentives that you have that people want to be involved in, the more you can make not having access to that one of the potential punishments," she said.</p> <p>Parish acknowledged the need to separate inmates who pose a threat to others, but said the disciplinary system should be "focused on rehabilitation, not locking someone in for 23 hours a day."</p> <p>"As long as we see even one day of that as trivial, as not such a big deal, we're going to have a hard time getting to another place."</p> <p><em>Caroline Lewis is a freelance radio and web journalist working towards a Masters at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Read and listen to her stories <a href="http://carolinelewismedia.com">here</a>.</em></p>