It’s a technique used daily in New York prisons, and yet some consider it torture. Tomorrow, religious and human rights groups will attend a panel at the United Nations to discuss prolonged solitary confinement in jails nationwide, and in New York state.
Rev. Richard Killmer, director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said isolating inmates for 30 days or more is a brutal practice that psychologically damages prisoners. And it’s one that is used too often.
“Everybody knows solitary confinement is dangerous, and yet it’s used anyhow,” said Killmer. “The harm that is caused is pretty severe.”
In New York, about 5,000 prisoners are in isolation across the state at any given time, estimated Scarlet Kim at the New York Civil Liberties Union. A New York state Department of Corrections spokesman put that number slightly lower, at 4,000.
In New York City jails, about 800 inmates out of 12,700 were in solitary confinement as of Friday.
Any time a prisoner is isolated in their cell for 23 hours a day is considered solitary confinement. Prisoners in solitary get a daily break for exercise, said city Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sharman Stein, and jails allow breaks for religious services and meetings with lawyers, too.
But most spend all their other time alone and take their meals alone. Suicides are five times more likely among prisoners in solitary confinement, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Critics also say solitary is used to punish relatively minor offenses: Smoking pot, for example, can land a prisoner in solitary for days, said Kim.
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“The general idea is that these prisoners are the worst of the worst, but that’s not always the case,” Kim said.
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.