New York Prison Guards Conceal Rampant Abuse Behind a “Blue Wall”…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/31/23

by | June 2, 2023

New from Solitary Watch: 

In an article co-published by Solitary Watch and The Nation, Victoria Law reports on the Maryland Mandela Act, which has stalled in the state legislature controlled by Democrats. The bill received “unprecedented” support from AFSC 3, the state’s corrections officers union, as well as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit consisting of police, prosecutors, and other law enforcement members. Even so, legislators tabled the bill for an interim study, leaving in limbo the fates of hundreds of individuals in Maryland held in solitary.  Solitary Watch

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Frank De Palma writes about the haunting psychological effects of solitary in “Into the Deep,” the latest essay in our Voices from Solitary series. Having spent 43 years incarcerated in Nevada before being released at age 62, De Palma calls the two decades he spent in solitary confinement the “most horrendous and nightmarish experience I have ever had.” In the isolation of solitary, De Palma writes, “Each level became darker and emptier and the deeper I drifted, the emptier I became.”  Solitary Watch 

This week’s pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement: 

A review of thousands of pages of court records and disciplinary data has revealed a culture of covering up egregious violence and abuse in New York State prisons. Incarcerated people who were assaulted by officers were commonly given false charges and thrown in solitary, while officers would often lie during investigations and on reports. Current and former corrections officials indicated they were unsurprised by the prevalence of staff misconduct, which they described as “deeply rooted” in the correctional environment. “There has to be some manipulation of facts,” said Daniel F. Martuscello III, the executive deputy commissioner of the state’s prison agency.  The New York Times/The Marshall Project

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Rates of solitary confinement in Missouri and Kansas are significantly higher than the national average, according to a report published last week by Solitary Watch and Unlock the Box. While the proportion of incarcerated individuals in solitary was between 6 and 7 percent nationwide, 10.5 percent of incarcerated individuals in Kansas and 11.9 percent of incarcerated individuals in Missouri were in solitary. Individuals in both states detailed the harrowing effects that isolation had on them, with one man describing it as a “day to day assault on the mind and soul.”  Kansas City Star

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Advocates in California are making a renewed push to pass the Mandela reforms this legislative session after Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed similar solitary confinement reforms last year. Named after the South African anti-apartheid activist, the bill would limit solitary confinement, defined as isolation without programming for 17 hours a day, to no more than 15 consecutive days. The current effort emerges out of a rich history of anti-solitary organizing on both sides of prison walls, which include the 2011 and 2013 Pelican Bay hunger strikes and subsequent litigation to end indefinite isolation for alleged gang members.  Bolts

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Nevada lawmakers are similarly considering legislation to limit solitary confinement. Like California’s Mandela reforms, Nevada’s Senate Bill 307 would restrict the use of solitary confinement to 15 days in a row, though it defines solitary as 22 consecutive hours in a cell. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous support and has been sent to the Senate Finance Committee.  Nevada Current

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Connecticut’s New Haven Correctional Center was locked down for three days earlier this month, a move that violates the spirit if not the letter of solitary confinement reforms that were passed last year, according to criminal justice reform advocates. “Since the passage of the PROTECT Act, this department has found many ways to keep people in cages for as much as they can,” said Barbara Fair, lead organizer with Stop Solitary CT. While prison administrators attributed the lockdown to “an active investigation,” they failed to specify the cause of the investigation or the frequency of lockdowns in the facility.  The Register Citizen 

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The Oregon Department of Corrections has been ordered by a judge to provide gender-affirming care to Nova Gaia, an incarcerated transgender woman. The ruling comes six years after a settlement brought by another trans woman in Oregon, Michale Wright, who alleged that she was denied hormone treatment and held in solitary for “weeks and sometimes months” at a time. Wright’s settlement instructed prison officials to develop a plan to provide hormone therapy and surgical intervention for individuals with gender dysphoria, but Gaia’s attorney noted that the settlement terms did not appear to be properly followed. “We wouldn’t have the orders in Gaia if they had been meaningfully implemented,” she said.  The Chronicle 

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Activists held a day of action outside the New York City Hall to commemorate what would have been the 30th birthday of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide two years after he was released from Rikers Island in 2013. While at Rikers, Browder was held in solitary for more than 700 days. Councilmembers who attended the event advocated for the passage of Intro 549, which would ban solitary confinement for all people incarcerated in city jails. Though the bill has received the support of a supermajority of councilmembers, it has yet to be voted on by the City Council.  Amsterdam News

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Ifoma Modibo Kambon, an incarcerated author and activist who helped organize the Pelican Bay hunger strikes, writes about his nearly four decades of solitary confinement in an essay titled “Pathology of the SHU.” Kambon describes the trauma of seeing others in solitary decompensate and the pain of losing family members without being able to be by their side, as well as the resilience that got him through his years in the SHU. “This story is about struggle, pain, hope, and suppression. Most importantly it is about the men whose spirits, minds, and bodies survived,” Kambon writes.  The Davis Vanguard

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A new series of animations brings to life essays by incarcerated writers from The Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” project. The series features an animation based on Matthew Azzano’s “Inside the Underground Economy of Solitary Confinement,” which was written with a grant from Solitary Watch’s Solitary Confinement Reporting Project.  VICE News/The Marshall Project | Azzano’s full essay can be read on The Marshall Project’s website here

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  • Arthur Streeter

    Until you have actually walked in the shoes of a corrections officer your opinion seems to be jaded and somewhat one-sided. 23 year Corrections Officer retired making this comment. We don’t refer to our occupation as guards.

  • Timothy


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