Criminal Justice

New York State to Curb Solitary Confinement


Earlier this week, the New York Civil Liberties Union announced sweeping changes to New York State's use of solitary confinement. Under the agreement, the state is to take "immediate steps to remove youth, pregnant inmates and developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged prisoners from extreme isolation."

Reason TV producer Todd Krainin detailed the damage of long-term solitary confinement on minors in a documentary that was originally released on September 26, 2013.

Original text from the video is below: 

"Why lock somebody up while you're locked up? You're trying to kill their spirit even more," says Michael Kemp, describing his six-month stay in solitary confinement at age 17.

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it's effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.
The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as "prisons within prisons." With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it's almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don't have to admit that "administrative segregation" is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It's all being done "for their own protection."

Seclusion? Protecting children? Who could argue with that?

For starters, there is Juan Mendez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture. Americans are accustomed to the U.N. investigating incidents of prisoner abuse in other countries – which Mendez has done in faraway places like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But increasingly, his inquiries are focused on American prisons.

Mendez spoke publicly about Bradley Manning's deplorable treatment in solitary confinement. Now he is calling on the United States to ban isolation for minors, which he considers, "cruel, unusual, and degrading punishment." It's a recommendation he shares with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. 

The ACLU report, Growing Up Locked Down, is one of the few detailed, comprehensive examinations available. This devastating and detailed look at solitary confinement for minors has led to this online petition that will be presented to Attorney General Eric Holder in October 2013.

Because the prison system is so opaque, reform has been slow in coming. A congressional hearing on solitary confinement, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) last year, heard testimony from mental health experts, questioned the director of federal prisons, and brought a replica of a solitary confinement cell onto the Senate floor. In recent years, seven states – Maine, Connecticut, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Alaska – have enacted laws to restrict the use of punitive isolation on young people. As awareness of the magnitude of the problem grows, more reforms are likely to follow.
If we believe that juveniles are inherently less responsible for their actions than adults—and more susceptible to rehabilitation—then it follows that their punishments should be less severe.

Given the severity of the punishment, prohibiting solitary confinement for young people is a first step. The greatest challenge remains demanding greater transparency from a prison system that wields total control over its most vulnerable inmates.
Runs about 13:15 minutes.

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  1. Speaking of ‘for the children’…

    It looks like Georgia might have a libertarian in the state legislature.

    Of course, this story is being played as “nutbag GOP pol wants to let pedophiles roam around in daycare centers” but the guy wants to repeal the vague ‘loitering and prowling’ law that allows cops to hassle you and arrest you for being black suspicious-looking. A section of the law makes it illegal for people on the sex offender registry to hang around places where children congregate. Of course, the sex offender registry thing also needs some looking into, but his main focus is on civil liberties. (Naturally, the cop spokesman in the article thinks exactly what you would think he thinks.)

    Other examples of his nutbaggery – when he first joined the legislature he voted ‘No’ on every bill that came up (as if he thought we had enough laws as it is), he introduced bills requiring cops to identify themselves before entering a residence, making no-knock raids illegal, to make it explicitly legal to film and record cops, and to declare Obamacare illegal.

    I’m going contribute a few bucks to his re-election campaign.

    1. Ralston told reporters that Moore is not “representative of our party at all” and said voters in Moore’s district might reconsider their pick.

      There may be hope yet.

    2. Man, what an interesting story. Thanks for being part of this community.

    3. “I’m going contribute a few bucks to his re-election campaign.”

      Trade you a Pelosi, a Boxer and a Feinstein for a Moore?

    4. “I’ve been fighting for liberty and individual rights for 15 years,” said Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs. “I promise you, the fight for liberty does not look like this.”

      Actually, it does, asstard.

    5. Given these high libertarian purity indicators I’m sure Buttplug will be only too happy to help in his native Georgia.

  2. “Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language.”

    You mean like calling adult criminals children?

  3. Social Liberals at Swarthmore uncomfortable with forum in which Professors Robert George Cornel West talked with students.

    “”What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion. I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society. We should not be conceding to the dominant culture by saying that the so-called “progressive left” is marginalizing the conservative,” Erin Ching ’16 said.

    “On the other hand, some students acknowledged the lack of large-scale protest as progress for the campus….

    “The first [question] was posed by Jacob Adenbaum ’14, who honed in on George’s stance on same-sex marriage.

    “”You talk a lot about recognizing that you’re wrong. So on issues such as gay marriage, the way we treat people in our society, what would it take for you to realize that you’re wrong and admit it? And my question for you, professor West, is you talk a lot about the humanities as a project that’s dedicated to the self. So I have to ask, isn’t it selfish of you to go on tour with and provide a platform for a man who has dedicated so much of his professional career dedicated to denying the rights of others?” Adenbaum asked.”…..ollection/

    1. Robert George *and* Cornell West

    2. To be fairish:

      Despite widespread disagreement with George’s views, students mostly agreed with Cornel West’s remarks, saying he was “wonderfully engaging,” “lovingly intelligent,” and “simply the best ever.”

      1. I thought “he” meant West.

    3. Meh, the more they put themselves into this left-wing circle jerk of academia, the more unprepared they’ll be for the way the world really is.

      Eventually most of them, after being hit upside the head by reality multiple times, will start to question the narrative and reexamine their beliefs.

      They’re not going to change the world, they’re too stupid and sheltered to now how to even begin.

      1. Meh. Not to sound all class-war-ish but most Swarthies are rich enough to safely keep the bullshit inside. Reality is something they don’t have to face.

  4. Slooot shaming: Duke University freshman outed as porn starlet speaks

    I am not ashamed of porn. On the contrary, doing pornography fulfills me. That said, I vehemently want to have my privacy respected — and I ask that anyone who knows my real name respect the fact that I am only discussing this publicly because it was made a public matter when I was confronted by a fraternity member who chose to tell hundreds of other men in the Greek scene.

    I can’t judge her for what she finds fulfilling, but isn’t this whole story really great for business? She’s probably going to make a lot more money now than before, which, according to her, is the main reason she got into it in the first place.

    For me, shooting a scene brings me unimaginable joy. When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.

    Honest? Those screaming orgasms are a lie!

    I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality. As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.

    I’m down with that. More girls with sexual quirks, please.

    1. Hmmm…one of the reasons for her doing it is to pay the inflated tuition at Duke.

      That seems to be an argument against the higher ed bubble as much as it is a porn issue.

    2. isn’t this whole story really great for business? She’s probably going to make a lot more money now than before

      You realize she’s not using her full name, right? She’s deliberately not fully identifying herself, which would make it hard for this to benefit her financially. And if you read what she wrote you’d know she’s only talking about this publicly because it’s already going public and this is her attempt to mitigate negative responses.

      1. Nonsense. Her porn name is or will be soon known and she will make a butt load – enough to pay her outlandish tuition.

        1. Her porn name is or will be soon known

          Said without evidence. And even if that were the case, that doesn’t mean she wants her real name linked to her job like that. She says as much herself.

          1. Her porn name is Belle Knox.

            It’s a trivial exercise to discover her real name.

  5. To the rest of us, solitary confinement = private room, something we’d usually have to pay extra for.

    1. “To the rest of us, solitary confinement = private room, something we’d usually have to pay extra for.”

      I read an account several months ago and the guy was claiming it really tested the limits of his sanity. He was a con, so you have to figure some seasoning in there.
      But on consideration, it also seems that the degree of ‘punishment’ is probably highly specific to the individual; some ‘way more so than others.
      Dunno how the management is to account for those sorts of differences.

      1. the degree of ‘punishment’ is probably highly specific to the individual; some ‘way more so than others.

        Indeed. For an introvert, someone who isn’t skilled in or motivated to manipulate others, solitary confinement is probably more of a blessing than a punishment. For an extrovert, a conman, someone who lives by his wits to manipulate others, solitary confinement is probably the greatest punishment imaginable.

  6. I really don’t understand this. I would much prefer to be in solitary, than with other people and run a risk of getting raped.

    Or just the other person getting on my nerves.

    I mean, I’ve alone most of my life. What’s the big deal?

    1. I really don’t understand this.

      And I’m guessing that you’ve never experienced it, either.

    2. I’ve always thought the same way. If I were in prison, put me in solitary and give me a shit ton of books to read. It’d be great, a lot of ‘me’ time.

      But I’ve seen these shows where they seem to go batshit crazy after a while. It made me reconsider.

      There probably is something about the starvation of social interaction that would drive you crazy after a while. Then again, we’re not dealing with the most sane people to start with here.

  7. That was some fabulous editing!

    Sen. Dick Durbin (with great sense of pride): “This is the first ever Senate hearing on solitary confinement”

    Cut to scene of Sen. Durbin and 20 empty chairs. I’m not sure how much “hearing” our Senators could be doing while they are not in the room.

  8. If you cant do the time, dont do the crime. Period.

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