By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- A report by a civil rights group criticizes the conditions of solitary confinement in state prisons, claiming that cutting inmates off from socialization and rehabilitation causes psychological ailments and exacerbates the problems and behaviors that led to the inmates' punishment.
The report from the New York Civil Liberties union released Tuesday details the psychological impact of solitary confinement not only on inmates but also on their family members, visitors and the corrections officers who oversee them.
"New York's arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe use of extreme isolation has led to an urgent human rights crisis," according to the report. "Corrections officials can separate and remove violent or vulnerable prisoners from the general prison population without subjecting them to the punishing physical or psychological deprivation of extreme isolation."
There are nearly 4,500 people in solitary confinement in New York, with most concentrated in two prisons. There are 1,040 beds at the Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, Franklin County, and 789 beds at the Southport facility, Chemung County, the report stated.
Prisoners suffer chronic depression, severe anxiety and paranoia and exhibit emotional and violent outbursts, the report claims. That includes inmates as young as 16 and those who are over age 65, according to the report, and black inmates are disproportionately assigned to "the box," a colloquial term for isolated prison cells.
Inmates are assigned to live in such cells because of violations they commit while living within the general prison population. Any such incident is investigated, and the inmates are given a hearing and the opportunity for appeal, said Peter Cutler, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
"In our system, disciplinary segregation, which is how we term it, is a very serious issue," Cutler said. "When there are individuals in our system, in our custody, who commit offenses inside our facilities, the reason why they are moved to disciplinary segregation is for the safety and security for the entire facility.
"And that's our paramount responsibility - to maintain the safety and security for everyone," he said.
The group recommends the state prison system overhaul its practices for separating potentially violent or vulnerable prisoners from the general population and audit its current solitary population to identify inmates who are not appropriately placed.