State Bar Calls for Restrictions on Long-Term Use of Solitary Confinement

From ALBANY, NY (01/25/2013)(readMedia)– Citing strong evidence that demonstrates long-term negative impacts of housing inmates in solitary confinement, the New York State Bar Association today called for significant cutbacks in the use of long-term inmate isolation and new protocols for separating violent and nonviolent prisoners.

The Association’s House of Delegates approved the report on solitary confinement, prepared by the Committee on Civil Rights, at its January 25 meeting in New York City.

Of the approximately 56,000 inmates being held in New York’s 60 state prisons, about 4,500-or 8 percent- are in solitary confinement at any time, according to the report. Nearly 2,800 New York inmates are serving more than a year in solitary confinement, the report states. A disproportionate number of inmates in isolation are African-Americans and Latinos.

“Inmates in long-term solitary confinement often suffer serious psychological problems, including depression, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns and suicidal behavior,” said State Bar Association President Seymour W. James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City.) “New York needs to adopt other means of separating prisoners who violate institutional rules from the general prison population without resorting to such harmful and outdated measures.”

Civil Rights Committee Chair Diana Sagorika Sen of New York City (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) said, “The practice is applied at a significantly higher rate to blacks and Latinos, and unduly targets those with mental health and substance abuse problems.”

The report cites numerous experts and studies on solitary confinement’s detrimental effects on mental health in reaching its conclusions. “Courts of law, legal scholars, medical commentators and independent observers have documented the wide range of deleterious effects that solitary confinement can have on the confined individual,” the report states.

In support of its recommendations, the committee cited a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union issued in October 2012 that found that New York’s use of solitary confinement is “arbitrary and unjustified, harms prison and corrections staff, and negatively impacts prison and community safety.”

Solitary confinement, according to several studies, has been shown to have an impact on inmate suicide rates, particularly among those suffering from mental illness. A 1996 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that “based chiefly on overwhelming consistent research, isolation should be avoided whenever possible.”

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The report is available at

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