Civil Rights Group's Report: Solitary An 'Urgent Human Rights Crisis'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The New York Civil Liberties Union has released data detailing the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement.

A year-long investigation by the NYCLU found that between 2007 and 2011, more than 68,000 prisoners were sentenced to solitary confinement for violating prison rules.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports

The average sentence to solitary lasted about five months, but the NYCLU data showed that some were kept in seclusion for years.

Prisoners are locked in an elevator-sized cell for 23 hours a day when in solitary, the report said.

“It’s out of control and the commissioner recognizes that we overuse solitary confinement,” NYCLU Director Donna Lieberman told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

The NYCLU argued that prisoners held in solitary confinement are denied meaningful human interaction and mental stimulation to prepare them for release.

The report went on to call the use of isolation an “urgent human rights crisis.”

New York State Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer issued a written response to the NYCLU report.

“As society removes those individuals who commit crimes, so too must we remove from general population inmates who violate the Department’s code of conduct and who threaten the safety and security of our facilities,” the statement read.

The statement also bluntly rebuffed the NYCLU report.

“The New York Civil Liberties Union has issued a report that supports their belief that disciplinary segregation in New York State prisons is ‘arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe.’ That is their opinion. I disagree,” Fischer’s statement said.

But the NYCLU contended solitary confinement is overused.

“Over the last couple of decades, New York has adopted ‘the box’ as the punishment of choice for the most minor of infractions,” Lieberman told Diamond.

Shanay Jackson said her brother has been in solitary in an upstate prison for more than a year, after cursing a corrections officer.

“It’s inhumane. It is inhumane. We don’t even treat dogs that way,” Jackson said. “You mean to tell me that we value dogs more than we value people?”

The Corrections Department began its own review into its disciplinary segregation policy last month, Fischer said.

“The use of disciplinary segregation is important to the overall well-being of any of our prisons. But I also recognize the need to constantly review our policies to determine if what we’re doing is effective and beneficial to everyone,” said Fischer’s statement.

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