Vigil held outside governor’s office for people in solitary confinement

AmNews Staff Reports | 12/26/2019, 11:22 a.m.
Survivors of solitary confinement, family members of people in solitary, and other advocates held a holiday vigil outside the office ...
Prison cell

Vigil held outside governor’s office for people in solitary confinement

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER

Amsterdam News Staff

Survivors of solitary confinement, family members of people in solitary, and other advocates held a holiday vigil outside the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for those suffering in solitary confinement in the prisons as well as local jails across the state.

Advocates are demanding that New York follow the majority of state legislators and vote to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act.

“Long-term solitary confinement is torture and can cause devastating life-long psychological and physical harm. It has no place in New York’s prisons or jails,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “While the proposed regulations by DOCCS take some steps to address the issues with solitary confinement, the legislature must end all prolonged isolation by passing the HALT Act.”

New York State regularly holds people in solitary for months, years, and decades. A recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), “Trapped Inside,” found that sentences to solitary confinement in New York State prisons increased in 2018 to nearly 40,000. Most people in solitary are there for months, with the average sentence being 105 days, or seven times longer than the international limit. Many people receive consecutive sentences.

“Being in solitary confinement through the holidays brings depression and loneliness like nothing you’ve ever felt before,” said Victor Pate, statewide organizer for the #HALTsolitary Campaign and a survivor of solitary confinement. “There is this despair that eats at your sense of self, like living is no different than dying. We need Gov. Cuomo to stop blocking reform and support the HALT Act.”

People in solitary confinement are disproportionately Black and Latino people, young people, gender non-conforming people, and people with mental illness. On Oct. 1, 57% of people in solitary were Black and 24% were Latino, which is disproportionate relative to the prison population and the overall state population.

Nearly 1,000 people with diagnosed pre-existing mental health needs are in solitary confinement each day and more than 30 percent of suicides in state prisons occur in these units.

One notable example is the case of Kalief Browder, who spent two years in solitary confinement while waiting at Rikers between 2010 and 2013 awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack and couldn’t make bail. Browder was released after a lack of evidence was found against him. He committed suicide in 2015 at age 22.

“We have the opportunity to end inhumane solitary confinement practices across the state,” said Phillip Desgranges, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “DOCCS’ proposal is a half measure that simply will not bring New York in line with our human rights values. Through the HALT Act, the legislature has an opportunity to end the torturous practice of long-term solitary confinement, reduce the population of those in solitary by the thousands, and bring a much needed end to inhumane solitary confinement practices in the state.”