Prison watchdog groups contend that New York state’s solitary confinement practices are among the worst in the nation, reports the Albany Times-Union. Inmates remain in a cell about the size of a bathroom for 23 hours a day with little to no human contact. Of the 55,000 prisoners in state custody, 4,300 live in small, isolated cells called “special housing units,” often referred to as SHUs or “the box.” That’s 7.82 percent of the population, up from 5.17 percent in 2003.
In testimony prepared for a U.S. Senate subcommittee in June, Karen Murtagh of Prison Legal Services of New York called the state “the leader in putting people in solitary for disciplinary reasons.” The group cited a client who got 18 months solitary confinement after testing positive for marijuana use. Another got 15 months for possessing a cellphone. One transgender client has been held alone in what’s labeled as “involuntary protective custody” for more than seven years. “She has mentally deteriorated in solitary confinement and has attempted self-castration,” the group says. A state spokesman said disciplinary sanctions “are never imposed without a thorough examination of the facts related to an incident at any [ ] facility,” and that ultimately, “any sanction is imposed with the overall safety and security of the broader inmate population and facility staff in mind.”