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Saturday, June 8, 2013

The New York City Board of Correction voted on Monday to reject a petition to limit solitary confinement in New York City's jails

Board of Correction Votes Against Limiting Solitary Confinement in New York City Jails by Cat Guzman and Jean Casella The New York City Board of Correction (BOC) voted on Monday to reject a petition to limit solitary confinement in New York City's jails. The petition, developed by a grassroots advocacy group called the Jails Action Coalition (JAC), sought to bring sweeping reform to a jail system with one of the highest rates of prison isolation in the country. On Rikers Island, which holds more than 10,000 of the average 13,000 men, women, and children in the city's jails, approximately one in ten individuals is in "punitive segregation" at any given time. Many are placed there for nonviolent misbehavior, including drug use, foul language, and "horseplay." The jail complex includes special punitive isolation units for people as young as 16, and for those with mental and physical disabilities. "Solitary is torture, and its affecting people with mental illness and regular prisoners because it’s so extensive, so out of control, and so unmonitored, said Leah Gitter, a member of JAC who has a family member with mental illness on Rikers Island. Gitter, who was present at Monday's meeting, told Solitary Watch: "We have to have the rules changed in order to make sure that we stop this form of punishment.” The new rules outlined in JAC's petition, if adopted, would have directed the New York City Department of Corrections to end the use of isolated confinement except as a last resort to prevent violent behavior; increased daily out-of cell time for those placed in solitary: and banned altogether the isolation of children, young adults, and people with mental and physical disabilities. The BOC, which makes rules and provides oversight for the city's jails, debated the petition during its public meeting on Monday morning in front of a packed audience that included more than a dozen members of JAC, who held signs reading "We Can't Wait: End Solitary in New York." In the end, the Board elected not to proceed with "rulemaking" in response to the petition, but instead to appoint a committee to study the practice. BOC member Dr. Robert Cohen, a Manhattan physician and expert on prison health and mental health care, vocally supported JAC's petition. He called the use of solitary "dangerous," especially for people with mental illness and adolescents, who are confined in punitive segregation at particularly high rates. During the past three years, the percentage of prisoners languishing in solitary confinement has increased dramatically, without benefit in terms of decreased violence or increased safety on Rikers Island," either for corrections officers or the prisoners themselves. "I have regularly visited solitary confinement areas on Rikers Island," Cohen stated. On any given day, the vast majority of prisoners spend 24 hours a day in their cells, except for brief showers. In the Central Punitive Segregation Unit, the majority of prisoners spend their day lying on the beds, their heads covered by a blanket." Setting rules for the use of isolation, he said, was part of the BOC's statutory responsibility. Read more of this post

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