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New York City’s New Corrections Chief, Known for Solitary Confinement Reforms, Faces Steep Challenges on Rikers Island

New York City's new Commissioner of Correction, Joseph Ponte, with NYPD chief Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

In March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed reformer Joseph Ponte as the Commissioner of the Department of Correction. In his last post, overseeing Maine’s Department of Corrections, Ponte gained particular renown for reducing the use of solitary confinement by over 60 percent. In fact, the changes he helped bring about in Maine […]

Severely Disabled Man Sues New York State Prisons for Neglect, Abuse

Five Points Correctional Facility in Upstate New York.

At a time when New York State is winning praise for removing vulnerable people from solitary confinement in its prisons, the case of Mark Gizewski offers a sobering counterpoint. Although he suffers from extreme physical disabilities and lives with constant pain, Gizewski has been in and out of solitary confinement for various prison rule violations. […]

Torture on Death Row: Court Rules Against Automatic Use of Solitary Confinement for the Condemned

Cell on Texas death row.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty itself does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” Yet the treatment of the condemned is nonetheless subject to Eighth Amendment protections, as well as Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process. In the past few years, this ironic legal reality has been the subject of a renewed […]

Way Down in the Hole: Senate Hearing Challenges Solitary Confinement for Some, But Not All

Damon Thibodeaux, who spent 15 years in solitary confinement on Louisiana's death row, testifies at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on February 25.

It didn’t take much reading between the lines to decipher the central message of last week’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement. Lawmakers and witnesses alike appeared to agree: There are people in solitary confinement in American prisons who just don’t belong there. And then, there are other people who do. In taking this […]

Doing “Bing Time”: Memories of a Mental Health Worker in Rikers Island’s Solitary Confinement Unit

A cell in Rikers Island's Central Punitive Segregation Unit.

The following post is a chapter from an unpublished book by Mary Buser, who worked in various capacities in the mental health system on Rikers Island. In Buser’s own words: “I worked in the Rikers Mental Health Department as a psychiatric social worker for five and a half years, leaving Rikers in 2000. I started off as a student intern […]

Lawsuit Secures New Limits on Solitary Confinement in New York’s Prisons

A cell in a New York State "Special Housing Unit."

Under pressure from a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three people held in long-term solitary confinement, New York has agreed to a set of changes to its use of solitary and other forms of extreme isolation in state prisons. The agreement, announced on Wednesday, would bar certain vulnerable populations from isolated confinement, while […]

At Hearing on Solitary Confinement in California Prisons, Advocates Challenge “Reforms”

Demonstrators gather at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday. Photo by Pete Brook.

“We’re here to question the existence and effects of the SHU,” stated California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano on Tuesday, “and we don’t think this new proposed policy goes nearly far enough.” Ammiano, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, was speaking at the second joint California Assembly-Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement, including SHUs (Security Housing […]

New York Lawmakers Introduce Bill to End Long-Term Solitary Confinement

NY State Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry speaks at a press conference announcing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Photo: Bernadette Evangelista

“I’m here in a steel coffin,” Jessica Casanova’s nephew wrote to her from an isolation cell. “I’m breathing, but I’m dead.” Her nephew, she said, “has never been the same” after spending time in solitary confinement, and his experience compelled her to speak out for the thousands held in extreme isolation in New York’s prison and jails. Casanova was one of half a […]

Prison Health Care: Is the American Health Profession Ignoring a Human Rights Issue Hiding in Plain Sight?

red cross prison

 The following essay appeared as a guest post on the “Speaking of Medicine” blog published by PLOS (Public Library of Science.) There are 2.3 million people in US prisons in conditions that are often inhumane and at worst life threatening. An estimated 80,000 of US prisoners are locked up in solitary confinement, which means in […]

Women in Solitary Confinement: Buried Inside the Federal Prison System

Women are held in solitary in every federal women's prison, including FCI Danbury.

This past September, in response to continued criticism around its use of solitary confinement, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) began an internal audit of its “restricted housing operations.” As noted earlier by Solitary Watch, no women’s prisons are listed in the Scope of Work provided by the team hired to conduct the Special Housing […]