[Ppnews] NYCLU Files Suit Challenging Solitary Confinement in New York State Prisons
Political Prisoner News
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Thu Dec 6 17:56:41 EST 2012
NYCLU Files Suit Challenging Solitary Confinement in New York State
December 6, 2012 By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
<http://solitarywatch.com/author/jeancasellaandjamesridgeway/> 1 Comment
"Life in the box stripped me of my dignity, and made me feel like a
chained dog," said Leroy Peoples, a New York State prisoner and the
plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed today
the New York Civil Liberties Union. "The ceaseless torment of being
locked up every day in a tiny cell with another person is hard to
describe." It is also, according to the NYCLU suit, in violation of the
U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment and
guarantees due process before anyone--even a prisoner--can be
further deprived of liberty.
The lawsuit challenges, on 8th Amendment and 14th Amendment grounds, the
"system-wide policies and practices governing solitary confinement that
are responsible for the arbitrary and unjustified use of extreme
isolation on thousands of individuals incarcerated in New York's prisons
every year," according to a press release from the NYCLU.
Further excerpts from the press release follow. For more background on
solitary confinement in New York State prisons, read the NYCLU's report,
/Boxed In/ <http://www.boxedinny.org/>, and our article in /The
Nation/, "New York's Black Sites
Solitary Watch will continue to cover the lawsuit as events unfold.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York. The plaintiff, Leroy Peoples, spent 780 days
locked in tiny, barren cell the size of an elevator with another
prisoner for 24 hours a day as punishment for misbehavior that
involved no violence and no threat to the safety or security of
The lawsuit maintains that Mr. Peoples' grossly disproportionate
punishment was caused by unconstitutional policies that similarly
affect thousands of individuals incarcerated in New York prisons. It
alleges that the frequency with which New York prisons use isolation
as punishment is a direct result of official policies that permit
staff to impose extraordinarily long isolation sentences regardless
of whether the individual's behavior demonstrated any danger to the
safety and security of prison staff or other prisoners, with few
guidelines or restraints, and with inadequate consideration of the
physical and psychological risk that isolation may pose to a
From 2007 to 2011, New York issued over 68,000 sentences to extreme
isolation as punishment for violating prison rules. On any given
day, approximately 4,500 people -- about 8 percent of the entire New
York State prison population -- are locked down for 23 hours a day
in isolation cells.
As highlighted in the NYCLU's recent investigative report "Boxed In:
The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York's Prisons," only 16
percent of isolation sentences from 2007 to 2011 were for assault or
weapons. The lawsuit contains new information obtained through
freedom of information request (available in its entirety on
that provides more detail about the types of non-violent, even petty
infractions that have resulted in isolation being imposed as
punishment on incarcerated individuals. For example, from 2007 to
2011, prison officials imposed:
· 302 isolation sentences for "smoking in an undesignated area"
· 135 isolation sentences for "wasting food"
· 114 isolation sentences for "littering"
· 234 isolation sentences for "untidy cell or person"
"New York's policies fail to provide for many of the most basic,
common-sense safeguards universally recommended by correctional
experts, mental health professionals, and human rights bodies," said
NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass, lead counsel on the
case. "New York's permissive policies predictably result in a
pattern of unjustified, arbitrary, and harmful punitive sentences to
extreme isolation that violate our most fundamental human rights and
negatively impact public safety inside and outside prison walls."...
The lawsuit alleges that New York's lack of adequate guidelines
allows the prison disciplinary process to be inappropriately
influenced by discriminatory intent. Black New Yorkers are
disproportionally represented in the extreme isolation population as
compared to the state's general prison population, and blacks are
punished more harshly with isolation sentences than prisoners of
other racial groups for similar misbehavior.
The lawsuit also challenges New York's official policy of
"double-celling," the practice of placing two strangers inside a
single isolation cell where they must endure intimate, constant
proximity 24 hours a day without respite for weeks, months and years
on end. The lawsuit alleges New York officials have continued the
practice of double-celling despite evidence that it is known to
result in violence between double-celled individuals.
In 2009, Mr. Peoples, who is black, was sentenced to 36 months in
isolation at Upstate Correctional Facility, which double cells
prisoners, for a non-violent offense involving the purposeful filing
of false legal documents. He served 26 months (780 days) at Upstate.
(His sentence was later reduced by 10 months for good behavior.)
This was not the first time Mr. Peoples suffered the consequences of
New York's practice of allowing extreme isolation as punishment for
non-violent misbehavior. In 2005, Mr. Peoples was sentenced to
six-months in isolation, also served at Upstate, for unauthorized
possession of multi-vitamins and amino acids -- available at the
prison commissary -- in his cell...
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