Lawsuit Accuses New York Prisons of Illegally Putting Disabled People in Solitary…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/15/24

by | May 15, 2024

New this week from Solitary Watch:

Writing in the American Prospect in an article supported by Solitary Watch, our senior writer Katie Rose Quandt explores the continued use of solitary confinement by the federal Bureau of Prisons despite its numerous proven negative impacts, and the BOP’s continued failure to meet recommendations for reform from its own reports and studies. The vast majority of the more than 11,000 people in federal solitary are there not because they are deemed dangerous, but because they are in “administrative detention,” simply awaiting a disciplinary hearing, transfer, or placement. Interviews with people held in federal solitary providing strong evidence that the BOP’s flawed operations uphold inhumane conditions. Quandt also highlights proposed federal legislation aimed at reducing or ending solitary confinement. The American Prospect

In the latest entry in our series of dispatches “The Word from Solitary Watch,” editor-in-chief Juan Moreno Haines reminds readers why it is important to learn about prison conditions directly from incarcerated people, as both sources and journalists, and to believe them when they tell their stories. Haines discusses how the media’s disregard for the voices of incarcerated people themselves in favor of sanitized reporting often censors what is actually happening inside prison walls, and speaks to journalists about the power of reporting on lived experience. Solitary Watch

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

A joint class action lawsuit has been filed against New York state in the wake of evidence of violations of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT). HALT limits the use of solitary confinement in the state, and bans solitary for incarcerated people with disabilities. The lawsuit states that rehabilitation units meant for alternative therapeutic programming have become “de facto” solitary confinement as incarcerated people are held in these cells for extended periods of time. Several of the plaintiffs, including incarcerated people with both physical and psychological disabilities, have stated that prison officials have kept them in segregation for over 17 hours, violating HALT protections, and that this treatment has worsened their symptoms and conditions significantly. A statement from the Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the lawsuit, noted that incarcerated people, especially those who are differently abled, “are particularly vulnerable to the disastrous and frequently irreversible medical and psychological consequences wrought by solitary confinement, and the growing penological consensus that solitary makes prisons less safe.” Times UnionAnthony v. NYDOCCS (2024) 

Jerry Cintron, a person incarcerated in Rhode Island, spent 450 days in solitary confinement after an overdose in general population. Civil rights lawyers argued on his behalf that corrections officers violated his constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment in that time, during which he suffered severe mental health issues including self harm and was denied access to treatment for his opioid addiction. The plaintiff’s attorneys claimed in his appeals brief that the defendants had told Cintron that “they would ‘bury [him] alive.’” Rhode Island’s Solicitor General claimed that the co-defendant correctional officers are entitled to qualified immunity. The judicial panel has yet to rule on the appeal,; however, Cintron’s attorneys contest the correctional officer’s qualified immunity due to clear evidence of abuse. Courthouse News Service

Lyle C. May, writing from death row in North Carolina, points out how conditions in the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and domestic prisons are shockingly similar in their use of torture. While Guantánamo is often regarded as an anomaly, or “the worst the U.S. has to offer,” May’s reporting shows that domestic prisons likewise reflect a pattern of systemic violence and torture. May includes several examples in U.S. prisons that meet the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment’s (CAT Convention) definition of torture. May calls for accountability for all officials involved in the use of solitary confinement and other torture tactics and the closure of Guantánamo. Common Dreams

Kwaneta Harris, an incarcerated writer and recipient of a Ridgeway Reporting Project grant from Solitary Watch, reflects on Mother’s Day in an essay on motherhood in solitary confinement. She explores the connections made with other incarcerated people in solitary in Texas, whom she refers to as “my surrogate kids.” In a conversation about her chosen family, her great aunt remarks “You ain’t doing nothing new, Black women been doing that since we got here.” Harris highlights the history of women of color caring for unrelated children, as well as the United States’ violent history of separating African American and indigenous children from their families, and how this is mirrored today in the forced severing of familial connections in the prison system and solitary confinement. Her piece is a reminder of the cruel treatment of those suffering from solitary, but also their strength and perseverance. The Appeal 

A lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found numerous instances of incarcerated people living in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and being notified of transfer to higher security housing without proper time to appeal. The Texas Civil Rights Project found that incarcerated people are kept in higher-security housing units long past the 10 year expiration date, are kept in their cells for 20 to 24 hours a day, live in pest-infested areas, and endure numerous other violations of health, safety, and civil rights codes. Incarcerated people assigned to high security housing and solitary confinement are deprived of their right to appeal or be released back into lower security after 10 years, meaning that nearly 500 people included in the lawsuit have been exposed to these inhumane conditions for a decade or more. KERA News 

TEXAS LETTERS, a project dedicated to amplifying the voices of those experiencing solitary confinement, published a letter by Tilon Carter, an incarcerated person in Livingston, Texas. Carter reflects on his experience in prison and solitary confinement, and the instances in his life that brought him there, exposing harsh treatment and torture at the hands of prison officials. TEXAS LETTERS PROJECT

Students arrested at the recent college campus protests against the ongoing genocide in Gaza have been facing harsh and often illegal treatment in New York’s state jails. Several students were beaten by NYPD officers after their arrests, and at least two reported being placed in solitary confinement for several hours. Faculty at Columbia University’s Barnard College stated that some were denied water and food for 16 hours. University faculty and other students collected reports from those arrested, showing “inhumane” and violent treatment. The Intercept 

Writer Jamala Taylor tells the story of his experiences in prison, where he was kept in solitary confinement for 15 years. Taylor calls for support for the California Mandela Act (Assembly Bill 280), that would limit the use of solitary in California and promote alternatives that do not cause harm or violence. The Sacramento Bee

An opinion piece by writer and member of Stop Solitary CT Jaylen Moment discusses the systemic racism in the Connecticut prison system. Moment compiles statistics and personal narratives to show how prison officials and government strategies target Black people, incarcerated and not. CT Mirror

A new article by legal scholars Michael B. Mushlin and David N. Cassuto “examines the moral, penological and scientific shortcomings of solitary confinement across species.” In the United States, thousands of incarcerated humans and millions of captive animals are held in isolation, and for both, “the agony of solitary is chillingly alike and harmful. And, in neither setting is it justifiable or necessary.” The article, called “Powerless Beings,” looks at “why the legal structures under which solitary confinement is imposed (on humans and nonhumans) offer inadequate protections from its depredations,” and “argues that incarcerated beings have no legal protections because they are powerless and invisible.” The authors conclude: “If all vulnerable beings are adequately protected, the unnecessary suffering inflicted by solitary confinement will finally end.” Elisabeth Haub School of Law, Pace University

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