Limiting Solitary


A bill announced in New York would limit the use of solitary confinement in the state's prisons and jails to 15 consecutive days for most inmates and bans the punishment outright for certain inmate groups.

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, proposed by state Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry and state Senator Bill Perkins, calls for the creation of alternatives to isolated confinement, including rehabilitative units aimed at providing additional programs and therapy for those sentenced to solitary.

Perkins said at a press conference announcing the legislation that while it's a state bill, it is intended to help drive America towards alignment with international standards for incarceration.

“This is a moral issue,” Perkins said. “The United Nations has even come out with a report that has identified solitary confinement as a human rights violation.”

A U.N. Special Rapporteur announced in October 2011, that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days “should also be subject to an absolute prohibition.”

New York's jails and prisons currently house about 4,000 inmates in solitary confinement each day, according to Claire Deroche, a member of Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, an advocacy group.

She said at this press conference that the bill would dramatically reduce that figure.

“As written, it would virtually eliminate a practice that was denounced as both dangerous and torturous, while protecting the safety of incarcerated individuals and corrections officers,” Deroche said.

While the bill is expected to pass the State Assembly, it is not clear if it will pass the State Senate or if it has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

James Miller, a spokesperson for the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which represents state prison guards, told The Crime Report that the union is currently reviewing the legislation.

In 2008, New York passed the SHU Exclusion Law, which prohibits the use of solitary confinement for inmates with serious mental illness.

But Five Mualimm-ak, who spent five years in solitary confinement in New York prisons, said the law doesn't provide help for those who suffer mental illness because of their solitary confinement.

“Imagine living in a space the size of your bathroom for 23 hours a day, and for the other hour they just open your shower and let you in there, because that's about the size of our recreation area,” said Mualimm-ak at the press conference.

“If you weren't messed up going in, you're going to be messed up coming out.”

Graham Kates is deputy managing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter @GrahamKates.

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