On Tuesday morning, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm introduced two new bills addressing the issue of solitary confinement in New York City jails. Joined by advocates from the Jails Action Coalition and parents of people currently incarcerated, the group called on the Board of Correction to adopt rules regulating the use of solitary confinement.
“I agree with the experts that [say] solitary confinement should rarely, if ever, be used,” stated Dromm. “When I toured Rikers Island last year, I saw the conditions under which inmates are exposed. It is not a surprise that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has highlighted the inefficacy and inhumanity of solitary confinement and called for its end.”
The first bill requires comprehensive reporting of data on “punitive segregation,” as the Department of Correction (DOC) refers to solitary confinement. The second bill is a resolution calling for the end to the practice of placing individuals returning to jail into punitive segregation to complete time owed from the previous period of incarceration.
The DOC expanded its punitive segregation capacity 27 percent in 2011 and 44 percent in 2012. New York City currently has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in history, and the DOC has more punitive segregation cells than it did in the 1990s.
Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project, called punitive segregation a threat due to the damage it inflicts on inmates.
“Punitive segregation, the involuntary confinement of incarcerated people in cells for 22 to 24 hours a day, causes serious physical, psychological and developmental harm and cannot be justified,” said Parish. “Punitive segregation fosters violence in DOC facilities and exacerbates threats to institutional security. The Board must act quickly to end the harmful effects of punitive segregation and to reduce current endemic violence in DOC facilities.”
Sarah Kerr, staff attorney at the Prisoner’s Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, agreed.
“Punitive segregation is recognized as being extremely damaging,” Kerr said.
The coalition presented studies that showed the impact being thrown into solitary confinement has on people’s mental health and presented statements from inmates in solitary confinement. One letter, written by “M.L.,” detailed the effects solitary confinement had on him.
“They would put the handcuffs on my wrists too tight, and then they’d pull us down the stairs using the cuffs,” said M.L. “Our housing had two tiers, and I was on the upper tier. They’d tighten the cuffs so your wrists hurt more and then pull you using the cuffs. I had bruises on my wrists for a while. The guards would also curse you out. Once I saw the extraction team beat up a guy.”
Stephanie Reyes, 39, whose 17-year-old son is currently at Rikers Island, talked to the AmNews about what her son has experienced.
“They’re not good experiences,” she said. “He’s stressed out. He did something wrong, and he’s paying for that now. But I can help him with this because that’s abuse. You don’t use your name and title to do whatever you want to these inmates, because at the end of the day, they’re still kids. They’ve done their crimes and stuff, but they lose sight that they’re kids.
“He can’t fight, but I can fight for him,” Reyes said.