By The Editorial BoardThe editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.March 25, 2021The State of New York stands poised to overhaul the use of solitary confinement in its prisons and jails — a practice widely recognized as inhumane, arbitrary and counterproductive.Last week, state legislators passed the HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term) Solitary Confinement Act, aimed at restricting the conditions under which inmates are held in isolation, including limiting confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days. The bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly with a supermajority of support and now awaits action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He should move promptly to sign the reforms into law. The new restrictions would take effect a year after the bill becomes law.Despite piles of research detailing the brutal physical and psychological toll exacted by solitary confinement, it is a common form of discipline. New York correctional employees have wide discretion to throw people into “the box,” as Special Housing Units are known, where inmates spend 23 hours a day in a tiny space cut off from most human contact. Signs that someone belongs to a gang can land them in the box. So can “eyeballing” a guard.
Mr. Manuel is an author, activist and poet. When he was 14 years old, he was sentenced to life in prison with no parole and spent 18 years in solitary confinement. His forthcoming memoir, “My Time Will Come,” details these experiences.
“Imagine living alone in a room the size of a freight elevator for almost two decades.
As a 15-year-old, I was condemned to long-term solitary confinement in the Florida prison system, which ultimately lasted for 18 consecutive years. From 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George H.W. Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era.
For 18 years I didn’t have a window in my room to distract myself from the intensity of my confinement. I wasn’t permitted to talk to my fellow prisoners or even to myself. I didn’t have healthy, nutritious food; I was given just enough to not die.
These circumstances made me think about how I ended up in solitary confinement.
In the summer of 1990, shortly after finishing seventh grade, I was directed by a few older kids to commit a robbery. During the botched attempt, I shot a woman. She suffered serious injuries to her jaw and mouth but survived. It was reckless and foolish on my part, the act of a 13-year-old in crisis, and I’m simply grateful no one died.
For this I was arrested and charged as an adult with armed robbery and attempted murder.
My court-appointed lawyer advised me to plead guilty, telling me that the maximum sentence would be 15 years. So I did. But my sentence wasn’t 15 years — it was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”
Inside the restaurant, Charlie Palmer, with its plate-glass windows overlooking the dome of the United States Capitol Building, her sizable entourage roamed around an area with a dozen tables. At the center of one, preset with plates of tuna tartar and salad to share, Kardashian West took a seat with two lawyers and three women who had been released from federal prison just two weeks before. They did their best to pretend the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” camera crew wasn’t floating a boom mic above their appetizers.
At a nearby table sat goody bags from the White House, packed with MAGA hats and signed commutation papers. That morning, Kardashian West had accompanied her guests there so President Trump could meet the women whose sentences he reduced and convince him to let other people out of prison, too.
She posted about each of the three women on Twitter that day: Crystal Munoz, whom she said was sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana, and gave birth to her second daughter while wearing shackles. Judith Negron, who got 35 years for conspiracy to commit health care fraud, her first offense. And Tynice Hall, who spent almost 14 years in prison on drug conspiracy charges after her boyfriend used her house for his drug activities.”
“Is it cruelty, or is it corruption? That’s a question that comes up whenever we learn about some new, extraordinary abuse by the Trump administration — something that seems to happen just about every week. And the answer, usually, is “both.”
For example, why is the administration providing cover for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, who almost surely ordered the murder of The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi? Part of the answer, probably, is that Donald Trump basically approves of the idea of killing critical journalists. But the money the Saudi monarchy spends at Trump properties is relevant, too.
And the same goes for the atrocities the U.S. is committing against migrants from Central America. Oh, and save the fake outrage. Yes, they are atrocities, and yes, the detention centers meet the historical definition of concentration camps.
One reason for these atrocities is that the Trump administration sees cruelty both as a policy tool and as a political strategy: Vicious treatment of refugees might deter future asylum-seekers, and in any case it helps rev up the racist base. But there’s also money to be made, because a majority of detained migrants are being held in camps run by corporations with close ties to the Republican Party.”
DL: This is an ugly analysis. Unfortunately, it is probably true and accurate.
“Imagine if prisons looked like the grounds of universities. Instead of languishing in cells, incarcerated people sat in classrooms and learned about climate science or poetry — just like college students. Or even with them.This would be a boon to prisoners across the country, a vast majority of whom do not have a high school diploma. And it could help shrink our prison population. While racial disparities in arrests and convictions are alarming, education level is a far stronger predictor of future incarceration than race.
The idea is rooted in history. In the 1920s, Howard Belding Gill, a criminologist and a Harvard alumnus, developed a college-like community at the Norfolk State Prison Colony in Massachusetts, where he was the superintendent. Prisoners wore normal clothing, participated in cooperative self-government with staff, and took academic courses with instructors from Emerson, Boston University and Harvard. They ran a newspaper, radio show and jazz orchestra, and they had access to an extensive library.
Norfolk had such a good reputation, Malcolm X asked to be transferred there from Charlestown State Prison in Boston so, as he wrote in his petition, he could use “the educational facilities that aren’t in these other institutions.” At Norfolk, “there are many things that I would like to learn that would be of use to me when I regain my freedom.” After Malcolm X’s request was granted, he joined the famous Norfolk Debate Society, through which inmates connected to students at Harvard and other universities.”
Yes. And here is one comment of many that I liked.
James Lee Arlington, Texas 4 hours ago
The value of Professor Hinton’s suggestion should be obvious, but our society tends to treat lawbreakers as outcasts, whose offenses deprive them of any right to decent treatment on our part. So we stash them in hellholes, then release them back into the outside world, still hobbled by restrictions on their ability to get a job and lead a constructive life. After all this, we declare ourselves shocked, shocked that so many of them wind up back in prison.
We could improve this miserable record if, as many European countries do, we regarded inmates as members of the community whose behavior required their temporary removal from society. If we treated them as resources who retained the potential to contribute to our economy and society, then most of them would respond positively to incentives that enabled them to fulfill that potential.
This has nothing to do with sentimentality. This country spends an enormous amount of money on mass incarceration, without striking at the roots of crime. While some inmates would defy any efforts to rehabilitate them, common sense and all the empirical evidence collected by experts demonstrate that such people form a small part of the prison population.
If our country truly regarded education as an investment rather than a cost, moreover, we would spend more wisely on schools, reducing the number of inmates in the first place. It is cheaper to prevent a problem than to cope with it after it has developed.
“Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old New Yorker, was arrested on charges of stealing a backpack in 2010. To ensure he would show up for trial, and because of a previous offense, the judge set bail at $3,000. But his family could not afford to pay. So Mr. Browder was sent to jail on Rikers Island to await his day in court. He spent the next three years there before the charges were dismissed. Haunted by his experience, Mr. Browder hanged himself in 2015.
Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.
Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life.”
Yes, and here is an excellent comment I support:
Geri Padilla Huntington Beach, CA 1 hour ago
It is heartening to read about a bipartisan bill that addresses the inequities of the current bail system. Thank you to Kamala Harris and Rand Paul for their efforts on behalf of the poor who can’t afford bail, not to mention the exorbitant cost of maintaining so many awaiting trial.
Reply 30 Recommended
“In New Jersey, voters and lawmakers gave judges more power to release low-risk defendants who can’t afford bail, letting them go home rather than sit in jail while they await trial. In Idaho, a new law created 24-hour crisis centers to help keep people with mental health issues from being locked up unnecessarily. Georgia and Louisiana established courts for military veterans accused of crimes. Hawaii funded programs to help reunify children with parents who are behind bars.
These are just a few of the hundreds of criminal-justice reforms that states around the country have put in place over the last two years, according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice.”
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo has strengthened the state office that investigates misconduct by prison guards, and also proposed legislation that would make it easier to dismiss corrections officers who commit crimes on the job.These are good first steps toward rooting out the culture of violence that has long dominated the prison system. The next task is to renegotiate a recently expired union contract that has shielded brutal or unqualified guards from accountability in any number of ways.As The Times and the Marshall Project reported jointly in April, the correction department’s internal affairs unit — which is responsible for investigating misconduct — has historically been weak and ineffective, partly because it relied too heavily on career corrections officers who lacked investigative experience and were also wary of offending fellow officers.”
“Any serious effort to repair criminal justice in New York City must do something about Rikers Island, the jail complex in the East River where justice goes to die, or at least be severely beaten.The City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, acknowledged this in her State of the City address this month, when she announced that the state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, would lead a commission to comprehensively examine the city’s criminal justice system. Its mission will be to reduce the jail population, now at about 10,000, enough to make it possible to consider shutting Rikers down for good.”
Maybe Rikers should be closed, because of the transportation problem, or the reduction of inmates in the system. But the problems of brutality and corruption in the system still need to be addressed. In a better world, we would ban prison guard and police unions. People with so much power over prisoners and the public should not be able to hide bad behavior behind curtains of union protection, which is a disgrace to unionism and the nation. And, the National Guard or the military should take over Riker’s Island immediately, with all the guards there eventually fired, laid off or prosecuted, after an intense study of who the real bullies and torturers wearing a uniform are. Union leaders who protected criminal behavior should also be prosecuted.
“States are finally backing away from the draconian sentencing policies that swept the country at the end of the last century, driving up prison costs and sending too many people to jail for too long, often for nonviolent offenses. Many are now trying to turn around the prison juggernaut by steering drug addicts into treatment instead of jail and retooling parole systems that once sent people back to prison for technical violations.But the most effective way to keep people out of prison once they leave is to give them jobs skills that make them marketable employees. That, in turn, means restarting prison education programs that were shuttered beginning in the 1990s, when federal and state legislators cut funding to show how tough they were on crime.”