Prisoners Tortured Daily in New York State

This is an article in the February issue of Peace Newsletter, posted by the Syracuse Peace Council:

From the February 2013 PNL #821
by Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre

In March 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called for a near-total ban on solitary confinement. Juan Mendez stated that “solitary confinement itself can amount to … torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture.” The cited article defines torture as “… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” Mendez contends that after 15 days some psychological effects resulting from solitary confinement (also called isolation or segregation) are irreversible.

Mendez also specifically condemned US reliance on the practice, which is utilized in all sectors of the US detention system. From immigration detention centers to psychiatric institutions, military prisons to even juvenile detention centers, solitary confinement is a standard feature of the imprisoned landscape. And the nation’s penal system is no exception.

There are 45 “super-max” prisons in the US. A super-max is a prison facility wholly devoted to holding inmates in solitary confinement. 44 of these are state-run and the lone federal super-max is in Florence, CO. In 2000, the US Department of Justice estimated that an average of 80,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement at any one time.

Solitary in NYS

NYS is the home of two super-max prisons, Southport in Chemung County (789 beds) and Upstate in Franklin County (1,040 beds). Additionally, there are around 3,000 Special Housing Unit (SHU) beds dispersed among 37 other prisons in New York. A 2012 snapshot of the solitary confinement population found 402 inmates under 20 years old, 83 of them 18 or younger. 86% of the prisoners at Southport and Upstate are Black or Latino. Many have been diagnosed with mental illness before or after their arrival in isolation. LGBTQ prisoners are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory isolation across the detention spectrum.

[24 hours in solitary]
Inmates in solitary are permitted one hour per day of
“recreation” in an outdoor cage. Image: NYCLU & Amelia
Ramsey-Lefevre

Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours a day in a small cell alone or in close quarters with one other person (a condition given the conflicted name “double solitary”). One hour per day is allowed for “outdoor recreation.” Prisoners may go in handcuffs to a caged area smaller even than their cell, where other inmates can be heard but not seen. Some inmates reported to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) that they declined recreation to avoid hearing the screams of other solitary inmates in the recreation cell.

Prisoners receive no training, work, or rehabilitation services and report insufficient access to medical and psychological care while in solitary confinement. No transitional services are available for those in solitary, even when inmates will be directly released from isolation. Despite the lack of services, SHUs and super-maxes are expensive to staff. NYS spends about $76 million each year to staff segregation units.

How does an inmate get to solitary?

Roughly 90% of placements in isolation are for disciplinary reasons, though solitary confinement can also be imposed if the inmate is perceived to be vulnerable or a threat to prison safety. The punitive system in NYS prisons allows each class of violation to be rated at varying levels of severity, granting corrections officials (COs) wide discretion as to the severity of the punishment. In fact every single rule violation in NYS prisons has the potential to be met with a solitary confinement sentence.

There is no limit to the amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement. Once in isolation, an inmate’s sentence in the SHU can be extended to punish subsequent rule infractions. If the solitary sentence exceeds the remainder of the entire sentence, COs are authorized to enforce further punishment through deprivation of haircuts, clothing, recreation, and even nutritional food.

It is well documented that prolonged solitary confinement often leads to mental illness in previously healthy individuals and almost always exacerbates mental illness where it already exists. Inmates in isolation have higher rates of suicide and self-harm. COs also report adverse effects from working in such tension including depression, alcoholism and family problems.

Why solitary?

The question remains why solitary confinement is so heavily relied upon in the US despite its costliness compared to conventional prisons, its negative effects on inmates and COs, and its ineffectiveness in reforming criminals. How did we get to where we are today?

In 1890, the US Supreme Court concluded that “solitary confinement left prisoners in a semi-fatuous condition.” The practice was virtually abandoned in the US for nearly 90 years. Then, in 1983 a riot in a federal prison in Marion, IL prompted a state of emergency and permanent solitary lockdown for all inmates that lasted 23 years. By 1991, over 35 states had built or repurposed facilities to emulate the conditions at Marion. Between 1995 and 2000, the total US prison population grew by 28%; the population in isolation grew 40%. By 2000, the Justice Department estimated there were 80,000 prisoners being held in solitary at any one time in the US. The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons claims the real number is much higher.

There is a clear connection between the invented Drug War and the resurgence of solitary confinement as an acceptable form of punishment. The NYCLU reports that the 346% increase in the prison population between 1973 and 1993 (correlated with vastly increased prosecution of nonviolent drug offenders) stressed the prison system with overcrowding that led to unprecedented management and control problems. Prisons responded to this stress by putting inmates in isolation.

Insubstantial Myths

Increased dependence on solitary confinement also mirrored a larger trend in the penal system toward punishment as opposed to rehabilitation. Just as policymakers waxed poetic about how they were “cracking down” on “hardened criminals”—language intended to make racist laws palatable to the public, as Michelle Alexander argues in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow—prison officials welcomed the construction of isolation units as proof of how “tough” their institutions were.

We are told that isolation is reserved for the “worst of the worst”—the most dangerous individuals in the prison population. Even the name of the solitary confinement prison—“super-max”—supports the notion that an extreme level of security is required to handle an extreme level of danger. But how can that be true if any violation can be punished with isolation? The NYCLU found that five out of six punitive isolation sentences are handed down for nonviolent rule infractions. The “worst of the worst” myth is simply not true.

Profit is the bottom line

The need for solitary confinement is a myth that supports a profit-driven prison system. Research shows that people released directly from solitary confinement are more likely to reoffend (and end up back in prison) than comparable general population prisoners. These crimes are also more likely to be violent and therefore garner a longer prison sentence.

This state of affairs is tragic, but it’s not surprising. The US prison system locks people up with no human contact and no meaningful work, denies them access to mental health care, and then releases them with no transitional programming whatsoever. The only beneficiary in this warped system is a prison system that profits from holding more inmates.

New Yorkers, our task is clear. We must stop torturing our fellow New Yorkers. We must reject the punitive, profit-driven imprisonment culture, and we must end the racist Drug War.

——

References

-National Religious Campaign Against Torture – www.nrcat.org; also powerpoint presentation in Columbus, GA in November 2012; also their film, “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard.” SPC owns a DVD copy of this film. Contact Amelia to watch or organize a viewing.

-“Boxed In,” published by NYCLU, 2012, http://www.boxedinny.org/report/

– NYT Mar 10 2012 “Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/us/rethinking-solitary-confinement.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

-“Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigrant Detention,” published by the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigration Justice Center & Physicians for Human Rights, 2012, http://www.immigrantjustice.org/publications/report-invisible-isolation-use-segregation-and-solitary-confinement-immigration-detenti#.UPHRXPLDkm8

-The Passion of Bradley Manning, Chase Madar, 2012.

-The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, 2010.

Amelia’s education in prison justice was catalyzed by the tragic murder of Troy Anthony Davis on September 21, 2011. Thanks also to the inmate who wrote to the PNL recommending NYCLU’s report “Boxed In.”

State Bar Association Calls on New York to “Profoundly Restrict” Its Use of Solitary Confinement

This comes from SolitaryWatch
By Jean Cassella and James Ridgeway
Jan. 30th 2013:

The New York State Bar Association last week passed a resolution calling for a dramatic transformation and curtailment of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement it its state prisons and city jails. The strongly worded resolution, written by NYSBA’s Civil Rights Committee, cites “the damage caused by prolonged solitary confinement and the ability to ensure prison and public safety without resorting to its use.”
It urges the New York State legislature to hold hearings on solitary confinement, and on Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the state and city departments of corrections to undertake sweeping changes in their prison practices.
After laying out the problem, the document presents the following resolution:

RESOLVED, that the New York State Bar Association calls upon the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and New York City Department of Correction (DOC) to profoundly restrict the use of long-term solitary confinement, by adopting clear and objective standards to ensure that prisoners are separated from the general prison population only in very limited and very legitimate circumstances and only for the briefest period and under the least restrictive conditions practicable.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the New York State Bar Association calls upon the Commissioners of DOCCS and DOC to adopt stringent criteria, protocols and safeguards for separating violent or vulnerable prisoners, including clear and objective standards to ensure that prisoners are separated only in limited and legitimate circumstances for the briefest period and under the least restrictive conditions practicable; and auditing the current population in extreme isolation to identify people who should not be in the SHU, transitioning them back to the general prison population, and reducing the number of SHU beds accordingly.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the New York State Bar Association urges the Governor of New York State, the Mayor of the City of New York and the Commissioners of DOCCS and DOC to take necessary steps to proscribe the imposition of long-term solitary confinement on persons in the custody of DOCCS and DOC beyond 15 days.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the New York State Bar Association calls upon the State Legislature to hold public hearings to inquire into the harmful effects of long-term solitary confinement and to solicit both professional and academic commentary on the matter and comments from persons who have been placed in long-term solitary confinement, and to otherwise conduct these hearings in a manner that will best inform lawmakers and the public at large regarding the effects of long-term isolation.

An excellent report attached to the resolution takes as its epigraph a statement from a former prisoner at Guantanamo: ”Please torture me in the old way … Here they destroy people mentally and physically without leaving marks.”
The report traces the history of solitary confinement both nationally and in New York State; documents the psychological and physical damage caused by isolation and its widespread abandonment by the international community; and notes that solitary is counterproductive to the goals of prisoner protection, discipline, rehabilitation, and reintegration.” It concludes:

Policy makers looking for guidance should first remember that “conditions of confinement that deprive prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities” offend not just the conscience, but the U.S. Constitution. It should be kept in mind that these conditions can easily, perhaps even reliably, lead to legal exposure for prison administrators and state officials who choose to employ it without strict guidelines and significant restrictions on the length of time that inmates can be placed in solitary confinement. In every relevant way, long term solitary confinement is counter-productive to the legitimate penological interests of both state officials and prison administrators and to the public safety interests of the public at large.

In light of the foregoing, solitary confinement, if used at all, should be measured in days, not years, months, or even weeks, ensuring that all prisoners, regardless of their conditions of confinement, have some minimal measure of interactive activity so that their psyche does not begin to deteriorate. Preventing psychological harm to inmates encourages institutional safety, security and discipline by preventing the development of serious mental illnesses which exacerbate the problems that supermax and SHU-style detention are intended to solve. Abandoning long term solitary confinement alleviates these problems while ensuring that the health and dignity of prison inmates remains intact.

Boxed In: Report on Solitary Confinement in New York prisons

Received via email:

“Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons”. 
By by Scarlet Kim, Taylor Pendergrass and Helen Zelon.
NYACLU. October 2012.

The report and other materials can be found at: http://www.boxedinny.org/. The website includes the report, letters from prisoners in isolation, a tour of “Malone, NY”, data on who is locked in isolation in NY, conditions of confinement.

From the report

“Every day, nearly 4,500 prisoners across New York live in extreme isolation, deprived of all meaningful human interaction or mental stimulation, confined to the small, barren cells where they spend 23 hours a day. Disembodied hands deliver meals through a slot in the cell door. “Recreation” offers no respite: An hour, alone, in an empty, outdoor pen, no larger than the cell, enclosed by high concrete walls or thick metal grates. No activities, programs or classes break up the day. No phone calls are allowed. Few personal possessions are permitted. These prisoners languish in isolation for days, weeks, months and even years on end.

What occurs inside our prisons may seem remote, but it affects all New Yorkers. It impacts public safety: Of the roughly 56,000 people incarcerated in New York’s prisons, about 25,000 are released and return to our communities each year, bringing their prison experiences home with them.

It reflects how we allocate increasingly scarce public resources: New York spends about $60,000 a prisoner – or $2.7 billion on state prisons – per year.  And it raises essential questions about how we value and protect human dignity.

Each of these concerns is directly implicated by an ongoing phenomenon behind New York’s prison walls – the use of “solitary confinement” as punishment on an unprecedented scale and for extraordinary lengths of time. 


New York employs an unusual brand of “solitary confinement.” Roughly half of the 4,500 prisoners in “solitary confinement” spend 23 hours a day locked down alone in an isolation cell. The other half are locked down in an isolation cell with another prisoner – a practice known as “double-celling,” which forces two strangers into intimate, 
constant proximity.”  

Read the report: http://www.nyclu.org/files/publications/nyclu_boxedin_FINAL.pdf

Correspondence from prisoners in extreme isolation is available online at www.nyclu.org/boxedin

Documents obtained by the NYCLU from DOCCS and OMH are available online at  www.nyclu.org/boxedin

For the complete list of New York’s prison rules,  “Standards of Inmate Behavior,” go to  www.nyclu.org/boxedin

New York’s Black Sites

From: Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, in The Nation:

With some 80,000 prisoners in solitary, the United States leads the world in isolating its citizens as well as incarcerating them. Though growing local and national movements are fighting solitary confinement as costly, dangerous and fundamentally inhumane—and though states from Maine to Mississippi have taken steps to reduce its use—in this bluest of states, the prison system is in effect rigged to keep its plentiful isolation cells filled, and thousands of inmates spend weeks, months, years, even decades in solitary. On any given day, there are about 4,500 men, women and children in some form of isolated confinement in New York State prisons. (In New York City’s jails, run under a separate system, there are close to 1,000 more.)

Read the whole article here.

This article appeared in the July 30-August 6, 2012 edition of The Nation.

New York’s Black Sites

From: Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, in The Nation:

With some 80,000 prisoners in solitary, the United States leads the world in isolating its citizens as well as incarcerating them. Though growing local and national movements are fighting solitary confinement as costly, dangerous and fundamentally inhumane—and though states from Maine to Mississippi have taken steps to reduce its use—in this bluest of states, the prison system is in effect rigged to keep its plentiful isolation cells filled, and thousands of inmates spend weeks, months, years, even decades in solitary. On any given day, there are about 4,500 men, women and children in some form of isolated confinement in New York State prisons. (In New York City’s jails, run under a separate system, there are close to 1,000 more.)

Read the whole article here.

This article appeared in the July 30-August 6, 2012 edition of The Nation.

Suicide Behind Bars

This is a Special Report by Richard French on suicide in Nassau County Jail, Long Island. It was reported that over two years five men had committed suicide while in jail, including a veteran of the war in Iraq….

A report quotes “grossly inadequate care” and “Lack of appropriate supervision.”
The Medical Review Board deems this to have been a preventable death with inadequate provision of medical and mental health care.”

The latest suicide – a veteran of the Iraq war has prompted serious allegations of misconduct, neglect and medical malpractice against the county and its jail.

More information:

Nassau Inmate Advocacy Group

Visit the Facebook Page of Richard French Live here:
https://www.facebook.com/RichardFrenchLive/app_106878476015645

Letter from Jalil Muntaqim

This is a letter written by Jalil Muntaqim who is incarcerated in Attica, and published on his weblog by his supporters.
This is a direct link to his letter and his blog.

Greetings, As Jalil’s Blog keeper, I want to give you the information Jalil sent out regarding on going harassment at Attica, a NYS prison. Please read and respond to his request. Many thanks.

The Facts of Disciplinary Charges:
105.14 Unauthorized Organization
and Disciplinary Hearing of 1/13/12-1/23/12

On the morning of January 5, 2012 , three officers searched D-37-32, the cell where I was being held. As I observed the cell search, Correctional Officer Wagnor removed my photo album and took it with him at the conclusion of the cell search. At approximately 11:20 AM, Officer Wagnor returned the photo album, absent the 14 photos. On January 6, 2012 , I was issued a non-confinement Tier III misbehavior report for violation of 105.14 Unauthorized Organization.

On 1/5/12, during a scheduled counselor interview that I had requested that afternoon, Counselor Schiffer called the correspondence department while I sat in his office and inquired about the photos confiscated from my photo album. He was told by correspondence personnel that the photos should not have been confiscated since they had been approved by correspondence for me to receive. Mr. Krumph refused to allow me to call Correctional Counselor Schiffer to testify on my behalf on January 23, 2012.

On 1/13/12, Superintendent Mark L. Bradt designated Mr. George Krumph to conduct the disciplinary hearing. At that time I informed Mr. Krumph I wanted to call as witnesses Correctional Counselor Schiffer, the correspondence officer, and Sergeant Cochran. Mr. Krumph then postponed the hearing so he could speak to my witnesses.

The correspondence officer would have addressed during the disciplinary hearing whether all procedures pursuant to Directive #4422: Inmate Correspondence were fulfilled, permitting me to receive the photos.

Furthermore, he would have addressed the proper procedure for the process of contraband photos in accord with Directive #4422 to be disposed of if found to be contraband. Mr. Krumph refused to allow me to call the correspondence officer to testify on my behalf on 1/23/12.

Sergeant Cochran, who had been acting as Attica’s “gang intelligence officer,” would have testified as to what should be considered an “unauthorized organization” from his years of intelligence experience at Attica. Also, he would be able to attest to the fact he was present during the processing of my personal property from Auburn. At that time, no contraband photos or literature were found in my personal property, including anything pertaining to “unauthorized organization.” Mr. Krumph refused to allow Sergeant Cochran to testify on my behalf on 1/23/12.
On 1/23/12, Mr. Krumph recommended the disciplinary hearing be postponed again, following the postponement on 1/13/12 to speak to my witnesses. He provided a form for me to sign indicating an extension had been secured for the time delay in conducting the hearing. I respectfully declined to sign the form.

Mr. Krumph then summarily denied all three of my witnesses to testify, and over my objections called Lt. Simmons and introduced him as an expert on “unauthorized organizations.” Lt. Simmons reviewed the 14 photos, immediately declaring them representative of an unauthorized organization. Lt. Simmons never stated what made him an expert; he never identified what in the photos made them unauthorized organizations; he never described or indicated what was in the photos that was incriminating. He just looked at them and parroted that they were indeed “unauthorized organization.”
It was obvious that Lt. Simmons was called specifically to violate each and every opportunity for me to refute the disciplinary charges, having them dismissed and the photos returned to me.

I objected to Lt. Simmons’ testimony and proceeded to present how my defense against the charges was essentially sabotaged, not permitting me to call any of my witnesses. I then presented the Bay View newspaper received on 1/13/12 from the correspondence department.

The front page showed two large photos—one of a picket sign with a large clenched fist, and the other of a young Black guy holding a protest sign in one hand, with the other hand held in the air with a clenched fist. Also, I previously offered other materials received from the correspondence department of similar nature, including the memorial ceremony programs of Cetewayo, Smitty and Karim. None of these, like the photos, had been submitted to media review or any other scrutiny for contraband by the correspondence department before being delivered to me.

Mr. Krumph did not deny or refute that the 14 photos or other materials were delivered to me by the correspondence department in accord with Directive #4422. Mr. Krumph did not respond or refute that I had not violated any rule subject to correspondence in order to obtain the 14 photos. In fact, Mr. Krumph remained mute when I argued I should not be disciplined for photos the correspondence department permitted me to receive.

I objected to the entire proceedings, including the harsh 6 months SHU time, loss of commissary, packages, phone calls, and good time.
I was immediately handcuffed and escorted to SHU.

It should be noted that the 14 photos depicted the memorial ceremony of Cetewayo (Michael Tabor) held at City College in March 2011, in which a Black Panther Party banner was hanging on a wall. Also, a photo at the ceremony depicted young people wearing blue and black giving clenched fist salutes. There were a couple of photos of the 14 that were of Smitty’s memorial with the banner hanging on the back wall while people spoke at the podium. Nothing inflammatory was depicted—hence, the correspondence department approved them to be received.

This is pure harassment indicating the administration’s propensity to flagrantly violate its own rules and regulations.

Anthony Jalil Bottom
#77A-4283
Attica Correctional Facility, SHU

Jalil has been in SHU since Monday, January 23, 2012, with only the clothes on his back. He has not been given any personal property, and was told he probably won’t receive any of it for weeks. He has no phone privileges, no commissary, no packages, and will eventually be allowed 5 books and limited legal materials. He will have only one visit weekly for the duration, and these are no-contact visits which take place in Attica’s SHU.

He is asking that people contact NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Commissioner Brian Fischer, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry and the New York State Commission on Corrections to demand that the charges be dropped, that he be released from SHU immediately, and that this campaign of harassment come to AN IMMEDIATE END! These charges are entirely fabricated and show premeditation on behalf of the prison administration to lock Jalil away until his next parole hearing in June and to negatively affect the outcome of that hearing.

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:
Office of the Attorney General
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224-0341
(518) 474-5481

Commissioner Brian Fischer
NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
Building 2
1220 Washington Ave
Albany, New York 12226-2050
(518) 457-8126
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry
LOB 526
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-4561

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry
98-09 Northern Blvd.
Corona, NY 11368
(718) 457-3615
AubryJ@assembly.state.ny.us

Thomas A. Beilein, Chairman
Phyllis Harrison-Ross M.D., Commissioner
New York State Commission on Corrections
80 Wolf Road, 4th Floor
Albany, New York 12205
Phone: (518) 485-2346
Fax: (518) 485-2467

When you call and/or write, be sure to use Jalil’s DIN number (#77A4283) and refer to him as Anthony Bottom, currently at Attica. We would like to know what responses people receive.

Please send an email to nycjericho@gmail.com or mxcc519@verizon.net to let us know. Also, please take the time to write to Jalil:

Anthony Bottom #77A4283,
Attica Correctional Facility,
P.O. Box 149,
Attica, NY 14011-0149

It is very important that he receive lots of correspondence at this time so he knows he is not forgotten and has our support. Send him a copy of the letters you have written or a short report of your phone calls.