Category: Rights of Prisoners

Solitary Confinement and Prisoners with Disabilities

Our blog has written on the use of solitary confinement, its impacts, and the efforts for prison reform many times.

To continue the discussion about this dark penal practice, here is a more recent report compiled and published by ACLU. It sheds the much needed light on the use and misuse of solitary confinement and prisoners with mental and physical disabilities.

This report provides a first-ever national ACLU account of the suffering prisoners with physical disabilities experience in solitary confinement. It spotlights the dangers for blind people, Deaf people, people who are unable to walk without assistance, and people with other physical disabilities who are being held in small cells for 22 hours a day or longer, for days, months, and even years.

Few statistics from the report:

  • “Nearly 50% of all suicides by incarcerated people are completed in solitary confinement.”
  • “Prisoners with disabilities are placed in solitary confinement even when it serves no penological purpose.”
  • “Approximately 80,000 to 100,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the U.S.”
  • “32% prisoners and 40% of jail detainees report having at least one disability.”
  • “Solitary confinement inflicts psychological and physical damage on human beings.”
  • “Prisoners with physical disabilities are placed into solitary confinement due to a lack of accessible cells.”

Report:

Professor Michael Mushlin Joins NPR Report on Prison Guard Brutality in NYS

NPR North Carolina ran a story about prison oversight featuring Prof. Michael B. Mushlin of Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University who has been tirelessly advocating for meaningful prison oversight. The level and extent of brutality occurring behind the walls of many prisons is unimaginable, and the fact that many if not all of the incidents go unreported, un-investigated, and unpunished makes these situations even more dire.

Related Readings:

Inmate Denied Water Dies in Prison

BY: Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights.

The tragic and shocking shocking death of Terrill Thomas reminds us — as if we need reminding — that prisons and jails are places that need careful oversight. Without oversight, as Kafka warned over a century ago horrors will inevitably occur. Yet in America, sadly, there is little meaningful oversight of our penal institutions. That has to change or there will be more and more needless and cruel deaths to mourn.

Related Readings:

Prisons: Private Prisons and Imprisoning Immigration Violators

An editorial in The New York Times today summarizes the status of the administration’s decision to terminate its contracts with private prisons — or at least to study the question.  It also suggests that the administration should re-think its use of prisons to house immigration violators who are not a threat.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/05/opinion/prisons-arent-the-answer-on-immigration.html

Should Felony Convicts Have Their Non-Waivable Surcharges Deferred?

POST WRITTEN BY: Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights.

All felony defendants convicted of a felony in New York are assessed a non-waivable $375 surcharge upon conviction. When they are sent to prison their prison accounts are assessed to pay these charges which depletes the meager amounts that inmates are able to earn in prison which otherwise might be used to buy supplies that can ease the burden of incarceration and also to maintain essential contact with their families through phone calls and visits. Theoretically, judges can defer these charges while the defendant is in prison, but the standard for doing so is hard to satisfy and the procedure for doing so has been made so enormously difficult by a recent restrictive decision  of the New York State Court of Appeals, People v. Jones26 N.Y. 3d 730 (2016), that it almost never happens. Ironically, the law governing these matters involving small sums of money is as complex as the law that controls major securities transaction.

In People v. Tookes, __ N.Y.S. 3d __, 2016 WL 3221208 (Sup. Ct. NY County June 8, 2016), (attached) Judge Daniel Conviser of the New York State Supreme Court sensitively addresses this issue and in his analysis indicates why a legislative fix is needed to address this problem. Judge Conviser in his opinion demonstrates powerfully why something that seems so insignificant to so many is so critical to people in prison. Judge Conviser in the conclusion of this opinion notes that:

[s]entencing for a trial court is not an abstract exercise. A sentence is pronounced on a human being, who, no matter what crime he or she has committed, stands in the well, often in custody, and often with family members close by, who upon a sentence to state prison will suffer a significant punishment … as the one human being who is most directly responsible for sending a fellow human being to be confined in a correctional facility where much of what makes a life worth living is taken, the sentencing court should have the ability to provide the extra soap or deodorant, the postage stamps which might make communicating with family easier or even the extra food which might make prison life more bearable.

Id. at 14. These words demonstrate a humanity and understanding that is rare to find in a judicial opinion. I hope that this decision will lead to change in the law to allow judges in appropriate cases to defer these charges at least during the period of a prisoner’s incarceration. It certainly deserves wide circulation and attention.