Target: Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections
Goal: Commend the state’s agreement to end solitary confinement for the most vulnerable inmates, including youth
Solitary confinement is on the rise in American prisons. Every day thousands of inmates are kept in isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years, for breaking the rules or because they are deemed too dangerous to be kept in the general population. Human rights advocates have long decried the negative health effects of solitary confinement, and now the state of New York has agreed to end the practice for its most vulnerable prisoners: youth, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in order to push for these reforms. Deprived of human contact, inmates can suffer from “mental health problems including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression,” according to the American Psychological Association. Solitary confinement is often used as punishment for minor offenses, and there is evidence to show that even segregating the most violent inmates does little to reduce future crime, or to make prisons more safe.
While initiated by a lawsuit, these changes nonetheless represent a major step forward for human rights. Other states are also considering bans on solitary confinement for their most vulnerable prisoners. Applaud the state of New York for moving forward with these much-needed reforms.
Dear Mr. Annucci,
I commend New York for following through with prison reforms that will end solitary confinement for the state’s most vulnerable inmates. It is well documented that solitary confinement can have disastrous effects on mental health, and that it may be ineffective in preventing future crimes. Thanks to these reforms, prisoners with mental illness and developmental disabilities, youth, and pregnant women will no longer be denied human contact as a form of punishment.
In one case, reported by NPR, an inmate spent five years of his 11 year sentence in solitary confinement. The former inmate, Five Mualimm-ak, once got a ticket to solitary for “eating an apple incorrectly.” You have said yourself that these changes will “make the disciplinary practices in New York’s prisons more humane.”
New York is now the largest prison system in the United States to ban solitary confinement for juvenile inmates. And there is every reason to believe that other states will follow suit, abandoning this cruel and ineffective punishment. Thank you for going above and beyond the terms of the settlement, seeking to overhaul procedures to reserve solitary confinement for the worst offenses. And as a crucial first step, thank you for protecting the human rights of your state’s most vulnerable prisoners.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: De Zuid-Afrikaan via Wikimedia