At a press conference this afternoon on New York City’s preparations for Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about the safety of prisoners on Rikers Island, which lies near the mouth of Long Island Sound, between Queens and the Bronx. Bloomberg appeared annoyed by the question, and responded somewhat opaquely: “Rikers Island, the land is up where they are and jails are secured.” Apparently unable to fathom that anyone’s main concern would be for the welfare of the more than 12,000 prisoners on Rikers, Bloomberg then reassured listeners: “Don’t worry about anybody getting out.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has released a report, entitled “Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons” which exposes not only some of the horrors of solitary confinement, but how arbitrarily this punishment is used in prisons in New York State.
The NYCLU also comes up two recommendations on how to deal with this issue which, in typical reformist liberal fashion, fall far short of what is required. The NYCLU says:
New York must end its use of extreme isolation by:
- adopting stringent criteria, protocols and safeguards for separating violent or vulnerable prisoners, to ensure that prisoners are separated only in limited and legitimate circumstances for the briefest period and under the least restrictive conditions practicable; and
- auditing the current population in extreme isolation to identify people who should not be in the SHU, transitioning them back to the general prison population and reducing the number of SHU beds accordingly.
Solitary confinement is torture, plain and simple, and has no place in a free world. All such units should be closed immediately.
An article in today’s New York Times offers a glimpse into the mental torture that is solitary confinement
Having been held captive to their imaginations for weeks, months or, occasionally, years on end, the men — many already struggling with mental illness — brought their paranoia, rage, anxiety and hope to life on the page, with descriptions that were sometimes literary and other times nearly impossible to decipher. More than anything, they conveyed a grisly awareness that their identities were unraveling, a feeling so disconcerting for some that they tried to take their own lives.