Thursday, September 23

Defenders say that despite announced reforms, they continue to punish NYC inmates with solitary confinement

Activists argue that in NYC only the measure of isolation in prisons was “changed”.

Photo: Fernando Martínez / Impremedia

Are there real changes in the practice of solitary confinement in New York City prisons after the state ‘HALT’ law was passed that prohibits this measure for more than 15 consecutive days, in dark and confined spaces? Is there any progress in the correctional centers of the Big Apple to soften this punishment, after reforms were announced by the City Correctional Board?

According to the position of activists from organizations that defend the Human Rights of those who pay prison, public defenders and elected leaders, the The answer is a resounding: No!

From the voice of the municipal authorities, there are “technical aspects to be perfected”, but the reforms could become a “National model”.

In the midst of this thorny tirade, this Tuesday in front of the New York City Mayor’s Office in Lower Manhattan, leaders of the Campaign for an Alternative to Solitary Confinement (HALTsolitary) demanded that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council pass legislation that requires that all inmates in prisons have access to at least 14 hours of real time out of cell per day, in group settings.

One of the spokespersons for this demonstration and petition was Melania Brown, sister of the transgender woman of Dominican origin Layleen Polanco, who died in 2019 in ‘Rikers Island’ prison in solitary confinement, after suffering seizures of epilepsy.

“The Mayor and many in the prison system were inspired in the case of my sister, barely 27 years old to promote reforms. But what we see today, despite the announcements of changes, is that this punishment continues to be applied in a cruel way. They hardly changed the name of things and the punishment rooms were enlarged a few feet. The truth is that there is no real progress for human rights and rehabilitation ”, argued Brown who is today organizer of HALTsolitary.

Dominican Melania Brown lost her sister in a punishment procedure on Rikers Island in 2019 (Photo: F. Martínez)

“It’s just a name change”

According to graphs shown by the defenders and family members, the rule that was approved in June by the City Board of Corrections just institute “Isolation by another name.”

The so-called policy “Risk Management Responsibility System” (RMAS), creates new levels of separate disciplinary cells, where people would be released for ten hours a day and transferred to a nearby individual cell, for a couple of hours.

Elected leaders of the State Assembly and the Municipal Council supported the criticisms of the community organizers and the relatives of the inmates, regarding how bans are being addressed confinement in New York City correctional facilities.

Senator Gustavo Rivera asserted that the City is trying to interpret the law approved by the State Assembly that proposes the elimination of this practice in time, in all prisons in the state.

“What we have observed and evidenced in recent weeks is that this torture methodology continues. The majority of incarcerated people are concentrated in New York City and the spirit of law continues to be violated. Our challenge is to completely end this practice, ”explained the Puerto Rican legislator.

The State Assemblyman representing The Bronx, Kenny burgos, recently visited the ‘Rikers Island’ correctional facility and described that the “darkness and trauma continue.”

“When I watched what happens in this prison, I had a revealing experience, as I saw first-hand how people are locked in a cell alone for 23 hours a day. The mayor and the municipal council they must put an end to this practice”He demanded.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s conclusion is very straightforward: “torture continues.” (Photo: F. Martínez)

De Blasio: “We have a model that will be an example”

This Monday, when questioned by journalists on the subject, Mayor De Blasio completely opposed to the versions that point to the cruelty of confinement in the city’s prisons, they haven’t had any real change.

“I couldn’t disagree more. Confinement real loner and punitive segregation impacted many generations of New Yorkers, but a series of actions with the support of experts and the Board of Corrections are putting a different model which could be a prison example throughout the country ”,

The City Correctional Board, an independent body that oversees the municipal prison system, unanimously approved the elimination of penalties between 20 and 24 hours a day of isolation to inmates who had committed violent acts.

The model that replaces the questioned restrictive measure implies a minimum of 10 hours out of cell socializing with at least one other person, daily reviews of health and mental health personnel, therapeutic programming and the representation of an attorney throughout the process.

In this same address, the spokesman for the New York City Department of Corrections, Jason Kersten said to The newspaper that the reforms will continue to be perfected.

“Not only are we confident that RMAS complies with the new state law when it comes to removing insulation, we believe it goes much further. It requires more programming, eliminates the use of routine restrictions and allows people to communicate with the people next to them during a minimum of 10 hours a day”, Concluded Kersten.

What does the ‘HALT’ State Law say?

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