New York Agrees To ‘Historic’ Reforms Of Solitary Confinement System

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A lot of prisoners are about to get out of solitary confinement.

NEW YORK (AP) — New York agreed on Wednesday to overhaul how thousands of state inmates are punished within prison walls, settling a long-standing lawsuit by accepting a range of reforms to how solitary confinement operates. New York state has agreed to implement sweeping changes to its prison system and the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners.At least a quarter of New York state’s inmates in solitary confinement are expected to be let out of isolation under a settlement agreement announced today that aims to overhaul the practice. She was there for three infractions of prison rules: purchasing socks and a hair dryer for another inmate, mailing a sample of prison food to court as part of an official complaint, and for allegedly falsely accusing a guard of sexual assault. The state will remove more than 1,100 inmates currently in solitary and put them into rehabilitative units or other less isolated disciplinary units, said the New York Civil Liberties Union in announcing the group’s broad settlement reached with the state.

The agreement also requires the state to retrain its 20,000 prison guards on de-escalation and other techniques, caps the number of days to 30 a prisoner will serve for a first-time, nonviolent offense, reduces the number of violations that carry solitary sentences and for the first time imposes a three-month maximum sentence for most rule violations. For these apparent transgressions, Fenton, like so many prisoners in the state and across the country, found herself in punitive, solitary confinement. “You don’t hear any other voices,” Fenton recalled in a phone call with reporters Wednesday. “You speak out loud to hear yourself.

The agreement leaves open exceptions for prisoners who commit extreme acts of violence or escape but also provides so-called step-down programs to effectively acclimate prisoners who have been in long-term isolation, even for violent offenses, before they’re released from custody. You forget what it feels like to be human.” “I got lost in that box,” she said, and when she finally got out, Fenton said something about her “wasn’t right.” She and her partner of 23 years split, and it was hard for her to remember life before “the box.” “Solitary kills everything that’s spontaneous,” she said. “It drains your speech, thought, communications … Solitary confinement for juveniles and pregnant inmates will be prohibited and alternative confinement options will be available for inmates with mental illnesses. “No prison system of this size has ever taken on such sweeping and comprehensive reforms to solitary confinement at one time,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

In June, two murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., setting off a nationwide manhunt that cost millions of dollars. She noted the settlement marks the end of the era where incarcerated New Yorkers are simply thrown into a box to be forgotten under torturous conditions as a punishment of first resort. The NYCLU has claimed that solitary is the most extreme form of punishment used in the United States other than the death penalty and causes severe trauma. Under the new guidelines, stints in solitary will be limited to three months for all but a few first-time rule violations, like escape attempts and assault.

Commission on Civil Rights recommended the practice be eliminated for young inmates, citing growing evidence that the practice is emotionally and mentally harmful. These 1,100 people will be composed primarily of those serving the longest solitary sentences, many of whom have developmental disabilities or suffer from addiction. While the proposed reforms are being lauded by civil rights activists and those who have experienced solitary in New York’s prisons, successful implementation will depend on support from the influential union representing prison guards, which was not directly involved in the legal negotiations, and has long been a proponent of solitary as a necessary technique for controlling prison blocks. The lead plaintiff in the NYCLU’s case, Leroy Peoples, described his experience of two years in isolation as “mental torture that I wouldn’t want anyone to experience,” in a statement.

Additionally, they’ll be allowed to make more telephone calls, have more access to reading materials, and will no longer be fed “the loaf.” (Lieberman described the loaf Wednesday as “an indigestible brick that is known to severely interfere with a person’s digestion. Officials with the corrections officers’ union said they had not been included in the negotiations nor had they yet reviewed the details of the settlement. “Our state’s disciplinary confinement policies have evolved over decades of experience, and it is simply wrong to unilaterally take the tools away from law enforcement officers who face dangerous situations on a daily basis,” the union said in a written statement.

The settlement agreement, which also involved the law firm Morrison & Foerster and Alex Reinert, a professor from Cardozo law school, must still be approved by the judge in the case, Shira A. Additionally, another 42 of the rules — all of which deal with drug use and drug possession — are only punishable by solitary after being violated for a second time. The corrections department will also begin a pilot program to provide offline tablet computers to inmates, but there are 30 for the entire state system. Although African-Americans make up less than 15 percent of the state’s population, they represent nearly 60 percent of those the state locks up in solitary.

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