NYPD Corruption + Solitary Confinement in NY

Local News

  • Files leaked to BuzzFeed have revealed years of NYPD corruption and abuses that have gone unpunished.
  • Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez is not filing criminal charges against the motorist who sped through a red light and killed two children in Park Slope. There have been multiple fatalities at the intersection, at 5th Avenue and 9th Street, since 2016, and traffic safety advocates rallied outside of Mayor De Blasio’s gym to demand changes to its design.
  • The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) held its first meeting of 2018 on Thursday. The 9-member board, appointed by the Mayor, will vote in June on the allowable rent increase for the nearly 1-million rent-stabilized apartments across the city.
  • The City Council has begun hearings on the Mayor’s preliminary 2019 City budget. Led by new Speaker Corey Johnson, who has promised a more independent Council, Members grilled the Mayor’s representatives, particularly on spending on homelessness, where the Mayor’s budget doesn’t break down spending on cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters, which de Blasio has promised to end after vocal opposition from housing advocates.
  • The City’s public hospital system is facing serious financial threats as a newly appointed CEO, Mitchell Katz, and a new chair of the Council’s Hospitals Committee, Carlina Rivera (District 2, Lower East Side), settle into their roles.
  • The Manhattan DA’s office notified State Assemblyman Dan Quart (D - Midtown) that it would discontinue its policy of allowing lawyers from the NYPD Legal Bureau prosecute summons cases against Black Lives Matter activists after the policy was criticized for infringing on First Amendment rights – prosecutors are typically not present in summons cases, but NYPD lawyers pressed some defendants to admit wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the letter from Cyrus Vance’s office cited concerns about resources, not the rights of defendants, for the change.
  • The Mayor and City Council may assemble dueling commissions to amend the City Charter later this year.

Elections

  • Cynthia Nixon has reportedly begun the process of hiring staff for her still-unannounced gubernatorial bid, including a former De Blasio special advisor and the campaign manager from his first Mayoral race. Cuomo responded by mocking Nixon’s celebrity status, getting his allies to urge her not to run, and using #MeToo as part of his latest fundraising push.
  • State Senator Jesse Hamilton (District 20, Central Brooklyn) and the IDC appear to have commissioned a poll that gauges Brooklynites’ reactions to statements about the IDC, Senator Hamilton, and his opponent Zellnor Myrie.
  • Although State Senator John DeFrancisco (District 50, Syracuse area) appeared to be the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination just weeks ago, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro recently entered the race and has claimed a number of strategic endorsements that may push DeFrancisco out of the campaign.
  • Howie Hawkins, a Syracuse-based activist who ran for Governor in 2010 and 2014 on the Green Party line and has been active in New York State Green Party for several decades, is planning to run again for Governor this fall. Hawkins’ 2010 and 2014 performances were good enough for the Green Party to automatically qualify for all state ballots over each of the following four years.
  • City & State highlighted the progressive challengers to seven of the eight Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) state senators across New York.

In-Depth: Solitary Confinement in NY

Overview:

Solitary, or isolated, confinement, is a punitive practice used in prison systems, in which individuals are confined to closed cells for 22-24 hours a day, free from human contact, for up to decades at a time. Few prison systems officially use the term “solitary confinement,” instead referring to “punitive segregation” or placement in “restrictive housing.” These varying terminology all refer to the strict, disciplinary limitation of social contact for determinate and indeterminate periods of time within carceral settings.

The use of solitary confinement was largely discontinued in the United States in 1890, after the Supreme Court’s finding in case In re Medley 134 U.S. 160, that solitary confinement led to mental deterioration and resulted in no rehabilitation of incarcerated persons. The practice was re-implemented widely throughout the United States in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-era War on Drugs.

The use of solitary confinement  is widely criticized as one of the cruelest state-implemented forms of torture in the United States carceral system, causing sensory deprivation and extreme idleness that overwhelmingly lead to permanent psychological and physical damage. There is little evidence that isolated confinement can address the underlying causes of “problematic” or “criminal” behavior.

NYS Solitary

In 2015, the US government voted in favor of the Mandela Rules, which recognize extended solitary confinement as inhumane, and prohibit any person from being held in such conditions beyond 15 days. While the entire United Nations General Assembly denounced solitary exceeding 15 days, New York State still places no limit on the total time a person can spend in isolated confinement.

According to the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, New York holds around 4,000 individuals in solitary on any given day – out of around 51,000 total incarcerated people, this rate is 40% higher than in the early 2000s, more than double the national average of 4.4%, and four times as high as states like Colorado and Washington. In addition, hundreds if not thousands of others are in solitary in local jails. Only recently did New York City end the practice of isolation for detained persons under 21 years old. The majority of sentences that result in isolated confinement in NYS are for non-violent conduct. Nevertheless, proponents of solitary argue that the practice is necessary to ensure the safety of other incarcerated people, and even more frequently argue that the “strategy” is necessary for corrections officers to maintain disciplinary control.

People in isolated confinement in NYS are locked in a 6 x 10 cell, about the size of an elevator, alone or occasionally with one other person. They are typically permitted to exercise for 1-2 hours per day and do not otherwise receive meaningful access to social interaction or rehabilitative, educational, or recreational programming. Confined persons lack substantive medical and mental health treatment and are given grave restrictions on personal property, reading material, phone privileges, and family contact.

The decision to place someone in solitary is made internally within a prison or jail system, and therefore largely favors the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). Hearings are led by DOCCS employees who adjudicate disciplinary tickets, with 95% of people charged with violations found guilty. As a result, the effects of solitary confinement blatantly target minorities and mentally ill individuals, who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated, put in isolation, and subsequently suffer the high probability of recidivism once released. While black people make up only 13% of the State’s population, they represent 50% of the incarcerated population and 60% of those in long-term solitary housing units (SHU’s) in NYS.  Members of the LGBTI community are often placed in solitary, presumably for their own protection, but of course, as a result of the heightened discrimination and sexual victimization that gender minorities face while incarcerated.

Cuomo

In 2014 and 2015, over 40% of all suicides in NY prisons took place in solitary, despite the fact that individuals in solitary made up only 9% of the entire prison population, according to the Correctional Association of New York and based on data obtained from the New York State Office of Mental Health. As a result, New York’s solitary practices drew increased attention and condemnation on behalf of activists, local politicians, and legal aid groups.

In 2015, New York State agreed to overhaul its administering of solitary confinement in state prisons. The five-year, $62 million agreement, was a direct result of negotiations with the New York Civil Liberties Union, after the group sued the State in a major class-action suit over the treatment of incarcerated persons in solitary. Cuomo’s stated goal in the agreement was to significantly reduce the number of incarcerated people held in isolation, limit their stay to three months, and improve living conditions under confinement with increased phone and group recreation privileges. At the time, approximately 4,000 incarcerated people were isolated, including pregnant women and teenagers under 18.

Cuomo emphasized fiscal benefits of the plan, noting that it costs the state up to three times as much to keep an incarcerated person in solitary as it does to keep them in the general prison population. Annual costs reach $77,000 and higher, per individual in isolation.

This past January, in Cuomo’s 8th State of the State address, the Governor proposed a criminal reform agenda, stating: “This year, the State intends to continue this massive overhaul [of solitary practices] by having the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision close over 1,200 solitary housing unit beds throughout New York State’s prisons.” The agenda fails to mention any real, Statewide policy solutions or amendments, instead emphasizing the increase in internal regulations and administrative oversight.

New York City too is widely in need of an overhaul of solitary practices. Previously, under a rule known as the Old Time Policy, if an individual who had been serving a period of solitary confinement was released, and subsequently returned to the jail, they were be forced back into solitary no matter how much time had passed. The lawsuit Roy Parker et al. v. the City of New York, alleged that this practice violated the “substantive and procedural due process rights” of pretrial detainees. Last year, magistrate judge Cheryll L. Pollack gave preliminary approval to a class-action settlement, in which the City agreed to pay a total of $5 million to 470 people who were put in solitary confinement under the policy between 2012-2015.

HALT

The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, whose mission is to greatly reform New York’s abusive isolated confinement policies and practices, has been advancing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, under Senate Bill S4784 and Assembly Bill A.3080B. The bill effectively “[r]estricts the use of segregated confinement and creates alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options; limits the length of time a person may be in segregated confinement and excludes certain persons from being placed in segregated confinement.”

Under the terms of the bill, any person separated from general population for more than 15 continuous days is to be in a placed in a “separate, secure residential rehabilitation unit (RRU) – a rehabilitative and therapeutic unit aimed at providing additional programs, therapy, and support to address underlying needs and causes of behavior, with 6 hours per day of out-of-cell programming plus one hour of out-of-cell recreation.” It also ends long-term isolated confinement, requiring no person to be held more than 15 consecutive days, nor 20 days total within a 60-day period, and restricts criteria for placement in both Isolated Confinement or RRUs. Importantly, the bill also bans placement in segregated confinement of incarcerated people who are 21 years of age or younger, 55 years of age or older, mentally, physically or intellectually disabled, pregnant, in the first 8 weeks of post-partum recovery, or in a jail or prison newborn nursery program. For all other individuals, the bill would enact stricter limits on the use and duration of confinement.

On February 26, 2018, Speaker Carl E. Heastie and the New York Assembly announced the (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A.3080B/S.4784A, as part of its Criminal Justice Reform package. The plan includes alongside HALT, other bills such as Assembly bill A.4879, emphasizing rehabilitation and prevention as methods to “end unfair discriminatory practices…and prohibit law enforcement officers from using racial or ethnic profiling during the performance of duties.”

Over 180 organizations across New York State and over 100 New York legislators now support the HALT Act, many of whom will gather on March 13th in Albany, New York on March 13th, for CAIC’s annual advocacy day.

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