Update, 8/20/14: Yesterday, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project released a new call to action to “Demand Safer Housing for Trans People in New York State Prisons.” After once again citing our investigation, SLRP tells the story of Synthia China Blast, a transwoman who has spent a decade in isolation in New York’s prisons, with an accompanying video featuring actor and activist Laverne Cox.
The call to action also includes an online petition for individuals to sign, to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
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Earlier this month, Solitary Watch published an in-depth investigation by Aviva Stahl into the experiences of transgender women held in New York’s state prisons. It found that most transwomen in men’s prisons were subjected to long-term solitary confinement simply for being themselves. Many also faced sexual assault by staff as well as other prisoners.
Shortly after the investigation was released, four organizations – the National Center for Transgender Equality, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the Trans Women of Color Collective – submitted a letter to the Acting Commission of New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) citing the article and demanding change.
“The women who shared their stories with Solitary Watch described a pattern of automatic, prolonged, and traumatic solitary confinement in men’s prisons,” the letter reads. “Their stories tragically demonstrated that solitary confinement does not prevent sexual abuse and other harms to vulnerable incarcerated persons, but instead inflicts further harm.”
The signatories call for DOCCS to “take swift and decisive action” to ensure full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s (PREA) protections for transgender people. Specific demands outlined in the letter include: “housing transgender people consistent with their gender identity;” “establish[ing] entirely voluntary transgender housing units;” and “eliminating the prolonged use of isolation (including disciplinary, administrative segregation, and protective custody) for all individuals.”
The letter can be viewed in full here.
Interested parties can write to the Acting Commissioner of DOCCS at the following address: Mr. Anthony J. Annucci, Acting Commissioner, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 1220 Washington Avenue, Building 2, Albany, NY 12226-2050.
• A man who survived three years in solitary confinement in a New Jersey prison has had his lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections dismissed, on the grounds that he had not exhausted all available remedies to challenge the conditions. Lester Alford, who is still incarcerated, had alleged that he was denied legal assistance and endured deplorable conditions while held in solitary confinement.
• New York’s City Council will shortly vote on a bill that, if passed, would require the Department of Corrections to compile detailed data on the use of disciplinary segregation on Rikers Island.
• A Florida NPR station hosted a debate on how Florida should address the deaths of inmates in the prison system. Randall Justin-Aparo died in solitary confinement in September 2010. Investigators believe that staff may have gassed him, then covered up his death.
• The UK’s Morning Star published a front-page article about the experiences of Talha Ahsan, who was extradited to the US two years ago on terrorism charges and subsequently placed in solitary confinement in a Connecticut prison. Ahsan, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, was sentenced to time served in July and is awaiting deportation back to England.
• The American Civil Liberties published a briefing paper, “The Dangerous Overuse of Soltiary Confinement in the United States”, along with a blog post written by an individual whose brother has spent nearly ten years in isolation.
• A Pittsburgh man will receive a $30,000 settlement for allegedly being placed in solitary confinement a form of retaliation, after he spoke up on behalf of another inmate whose food was being tampered with by staff. The state has paid out $386,000 in lawsuits related to staff misconduct at the State Correctional Institution.
• Writing for the Huffington Post, Solitary Watch contributor Sarah Shourd describes seven audio recordings and videos recently released by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), in which immigration detainees experience arbitrary solitary confinement and other abuses.
• After she reported being sexually assaulted by her roommate at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, a transgender woman notified staff that she felt suicidal and was sent to solitary confinement for two days. Marichuy Leal Gamino and her supporters believe that she was being punished for reporting the assault.
• According to the latest report published by New York City’s Board of Corrections, more than 90% of those placed in disciplinary segregation at Riker’s Island do not receive their daily, legally-mandated hour of recreation. The report’s findings were covered by a variety of outlets, including the NY Daily News.
• The Department of Justice released a report which concludes that “there is a pattern of practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates,” and that the Department of Corrections “relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measures.” The New York Times wrote an editorial supporting the extensive recommendations outlined in the report, including a reform of the “institutional culture of the jail system to ensure that violence is no longer tolerated.”
• The Bronx District Attorney has declined to prosecute any Rikers staff in an alleged 2012 assault on two prisoners, which was described in detail in the New York Times last month. Several individuals, including civilian staff members, had previously come forward to tell investigators what they had witnessed, but this week DA office announced that there were “inconsistencies and contradictions in testimony.”
• In the June/July 2014 issue of Correctional Law Reporter, Fred Cohen, LL.B., LL.M., convenes a panel of experts on prisons and the law in a “symposium” examining the use of and alternatives to solitary confinement in three hypothetical cases that illustrate the conditions, circumstances, and types of offenders consigned to “administrative segregation” in prisons around the U.S. Written for prison and jail administrators and their legal counsel, the bimonthly Correctional Law Reporter covers legal and constitutional issues in corrections.
• A federal judge has allowed a class-action lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections to move forward, dismissing the state’s request for the summary judgment. The suit alleges that more than 33,000 prisoners in Arizona have endured poor prison health care and excessive solitary confinement. A trial is set to start in October.
• Solitary Watch’s Victoria Law published an article on Gothamist exploring “what it’s like to be 16 and in solitary on Rikers Island.”
• A trial against the New Jersey Department of Corrections continues this week. In the lawsuit, Lester Alford alleges that the DOC violated his rights against cruel and unusual punishment and that he was placed in disciplinary isolation without a proper hearing. In court he stated, “they locked me in a cell behind a cage like an an animal. I didn’t get to see my own face for three years.”
• A North Idaho teenager charged with murdering his father and brother has been removed from isolation in an adult facility and returned to a juvenile detention center. The ACLU of Idado had previously filed documents stating that Eldon Samuel III’s treatment in the Kootenai County Jail is “worse than the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.”