The New York Civil Liberties Union gathered letters from more than 100 inmates for a new report critical of solitary confinement in the New York State prison system, the New York Times says. The letters may add fuel to the national debate over whether holding prisoners in extreme isolation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Many states have shifted away from the practice, but it remains widespread in New York.
Nearly 4,500 prisoners in the state are held in segregated housing on any given day, about half in solitary confinement and half in cells with another inmate, says the civil liberties group. It called both types of segregation “arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe,” arguing that corrections officials have too much discretion to send inmates to segregated housing for long periods, even for minor infractions. The report does not call for abolishing solitary confinement but recommends that the state adopt more restrictive regulations that reserve isolation as a punishment for the most violent offenders and take a census of its cells to find out which inmates deserve to be there.