Prison officials in New York reached a tentative settlement with the state’s civil liberties union lst year, agreeing to shelve a pending legal battle and collaborate on new rules that could sharply limit the time inmates spend in solitary confinement. That could mean downsizing the state’s network of isolation cells known as SHU units, reports NPR. The deal angered corrections officer Mike Powers, head of the state prison guard union, who says, “Our SHUs are not the dungeons that people portray them to be.” Powers says officers use solitary confinement strategically every day to maintain order and safety, especially in New York’s often violent maximum security prisons.
He says the threat of isolation is an important deterrent. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had an offender, an inmate, tell me that ‘I’m not going back in there, Powers. You can count on that,’ ” he says. Many corrections officers call solitary confinement a normal practice, relied on for decades. Reform advocates say isolation is used too often. They point to the fact that many of the 4,500 inmates held in New York’s isolation cells before last year’s agreement were teens, pregnant women and inmates who committed minor infractions. “Five out of six offenses that lead people into solitary are for nonviolent ticket infractions, like excessive bearding or having too many stamps,” says Five Mualimm-ak, now a reform activist, who spent 11 years behind bars on weapons charges, including five years in solitary. The data come from a 2012 New York Civil Liberties report.