Officials Call For End to Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island


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Officials Call For End to Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island

Kirk James, Senior Director of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at the Fortune Society, a non-profit that helps inmates and former inmates reenter society, speaks during a rally at City Hall on Monday.

Associated Press

A group of local elected officials plan to introduce two pieces of legislation on Thursday that they hope will end the New York City Department of Correction’s  use of solitary confinement.

The planned bills, introduced by City Councilman Daniel Drumm is an attempt to address safety issues at Rikers Island jail, revealed recently by probed conducted by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the city’s Department of Investigation.

Mr. Drumm, a Queens Democrat, announced the planned measures on the steps of City Hall on Monday, flanked by City Council members Jumaane Williams, Andy King, and Ydanis Rodriguez and Public Advocate Letitia James.

Mr. Drumm said the conditions he saw on a tour of Rikers Island earlier this year were “dehumanizing,” specifically mentioning the size of cells, the smell of urine, graffiti, rusted beds, and 4 a.m. wake-up calls for recreation.

A correction department official said new strategies are being put into place that focus on inmate safety, such as an updated use of force policy and the installation of more cameras. So far, incidents among adolescent inmates dropped from 31 in April to 19 in June, the official said.

Council members, civil liberties, inmate and legal advocates and other supporters of the New York City Jail Action Coalition hold a rally to call for overhauling policies concerning treatment of city jail inmates at City Hall on Monday.


“Commissioner Joseph Ponte has made it clear that excessive use of force unnecessary or unwarranted use of punitive segregation and corruption of any kind are absolutely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated under his watch,” said spokesman Eldin Villafane.

Correction Officers Benevolent Association spokesperson didn’t immediately return a message for comment.

“Having gone there and witnessed the conditions that I saw in solitary was of major concern to me,” said Mr. Drumm.

The first planned bill calls for the composition of a quarterly report detailing the number of inmates in solitary confinement, their age, the reason for their confinement,  the length of stay and whether they had any mental health issues. The planned bill calls for the end of a practice known as “time owed,” where an inmate who returns to Rikers has to finish any time in solitary confinement they did not complete on their first stay.

An aerial photo of Rikers Island.

Associated Press

Mr. Drumm said he believes he has the votes in place to get both bills passed.

“This reporting bill will be the first step to correct” those conditions, said Mr. Drumm.

Prisoners sent to solitary confinement could be in their jail cells alone for up to 23 hours a day. In January, the New York City Department of Correction stopped putting mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, a move hailed as groundbreaking by jail officials.


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Dispatches: Tracking US Police Brutality

Dispatches: A look at human rights in the news today

Dispatches: Tracking US Police Brutality

August 12, 2014

Over the past month, police officers in the United States have killed three unarmed black men in circumstances that raise serious human rights concerns. On July 17,  Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died after a New York Police Department officer placed him in a choke hold—a tactic that the NYPD banned in 1993—while trying to arrest him for selling black market cigarettes on a Staten Island street. The New York Medical Examiner has ruled his death a homicide.

On August 5, police fatally shot John Crawford, 22, inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Witnesses say Crawford was holding a toy gun that was available for purchase in the store, and that police opened fire when he did not comply with an order to put it down.

Then, on August 9, police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old due to start college two days later. Police allege that Brown assaulted an officer, but witnesses say he was 35 feet away from the police car when he was shot. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into the shooting as a possible violation of federal civil rights laws.

Communities throughout the US have long voiced concerns about the use of excessive force by police, saying incidents like these disproportionately involve black men. And indeed, Garner, Crawford, and Brown join an appallingly long list of unarmed black men killed by police in the US in recent years. Some—like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Oscar Grant—have made national headlines and generated public protests. In Ferguson, the at-times violent unrest has continued for days. Police have used teargas and rubber bullets against protesters, and in some instances, told journalists to leave the scene.

But it’s almost impossible to get a firm handle on the full extent of the problem. As journalists and others have documented time and time again, there are no reliable nationwide figures on police use of deadly force. A federal law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, requires the Attorney General to collect and publish data on the use of force by police and issue an annual summary.  A search of the Justice Department website yielded no indication that such a summary has ever been published.

Without this data, one can’t know whether, as some claim, police abuse can be traced to a few “bad apple” officers, or is an endemic problem; and how to best go about addressing it. Implementation of the 1994 law would not solve the problem, but it would be an important step in taking measure of exactly how big it is. Meanwhile, the headlines, the funerals, and the protests continue, documenting yet another life lost.

Seven Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [8/17/2014]

Solitary confinement cellThe following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

• 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.

The Sustainability of Organic cotton and GM cotton

Originally posted on

The Sustainability of Organic cotton and GM cotton – Part 1 of 2

The Sustainability of Organic cotton and GM cotton – Part 1 of 2

cottonCotton is one of the world’s most important natural fibres. It’s used by nearly everyone on earth every day, and supports 250 million people’s livelihoods. It’s a renewable natural resource, but only if we manage it responsibly.
Cotton is by far the largest natural fibre based on a renewable resource used for textiles. Roughly 40% of all textile fibres are made of cotton or cotton blends.
Today, the largest cotton growing nations are China, India, USA and Pakistan (see table). Cotton is one of the most important agricultural commodities.

The largest cotton consumer is by far China 45.5 mio bales, followed by India (19.5), Pakistan (10.3) and Turkey (5.3), reflecting the strength…

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Passing the Gift Along

Passing the Gift Along

By Prison Fellowship | Posted August 11, 2014

Michelle and her daughter.

No one has to tell Michelle what prison can do to a family; she’s lived it. Her mom went to prison when Michelle was 15 years old.

But Michelle also knows that broken families and shattered dreams can be restored – like hers were through Angel Tree.

Lonely Christmas, Shattered Dreams

She’d already spent one lonely Christmas without her mother, and another was just around the corner.

Presents were out of the question, and Michelle was worried. She was the oldest. Her brother and sisters were counting on her. With both mom and dad out of the picture, she’d become the parent in the family.

It was a heavy burden for a teenager to bear.

Sometimes she’d lie awake at night and think about what might have been. Michelle had dreamed of going to college. Now, in her own words, she was “a seventh grade dropout.”

But God had not forgotten Michelle or her brothers and sisters, and neither had their mother. She was far away in prison, but her children were never far from her thoughts.

A Family Sentenced to Separation

When Michelle’s mom heard about Prison Fellowship®’s Angel Tree®, she knew it was what her children needed. She applied.

That Christmas — her second behind bars — there were presents from her for each of them under the tree.

“It helped us. It helped us a whole lot,” Michelle’s younger sister Tiffany says. Although she couldn’t be with them, Angel Tree was proof that their mom still loved them.

For Michelle, that Christmas was the Christmas her dreams were reborn. Through Angel Tree, a caring volunteer helped her find the confidence to believe in herself. She encouraged Michelle to never give up her dreams, and promised that she would be there for her college graduation.

“Angel Tree was the first time I heard about having a future,” Michelle says, “My mom never said that to me.”

Angel Tree Broke Through the Walls

Now a mom herself, Michelle went back to school, earned her GED, and is studying to become a registered nurse. She’s nearly finished with college. The life — and the family — that she dreamed of as a child are hers. When Christmas comes this year, Michelle and her family will again be part of Angel Tree.

But this year, they’ll be giving the gifts instead of receiving them.

“My gift is for a 1-year-old,” Michelle’s daughter Victoria says. “I paid for my gift myself by saving up my allowance.” Victoria says that she wants to help Angel Tree kids because, “I want them to have presents to open at Christmas, and I want them to know that their parents care about them and think about them every day.”

Her proud mom can’t help but shed a tear when she hears it. She remembers when that was exactly what she needed.

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Immigration groups allege abuse of migrant minors by US border patrol

Originally posted on

PImmigration groups allege abuse of migrant minors by US border patrol

Alliance of immigration and civil rights organisations file complaint claiming ‘widespread and systematic’ abuse of unaccompanied migrant children in border agency control

Undocumented migrant children US immigration
The groups say the documented reports reflect ‘widespread and systematic’ abuse of children in border agency custody. Photograph: Jose Munoz /EPA

An alliance of immigration and civil rights organisations have filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on behalf of more than 100 unaccompanied migrant children, some as young as five, alleging abuse by US Customs and Border Protection, in a document which they say reflects a “humanitarian crisis” at the border.

The groups, who have urged the DHS to investigate the allegations, say the documented reports reflect “widespread and systematic”…

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