Spotlight: New York Campaign Urges End to Solitary Confinement through Legislative Action

With over 5,000 people – disproportionately Black people – held in isolation in prisons and jails on any given day, New York State keeps people in solitary confinement at rates well above the national average—and New York activists have come together to lodge a proportional response. The statewide Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) aims to expose solitary confinement for what it really is—torture—and bring about an end to the practice in New York State by promoting humane and effective alternatives that could fundamentally transform the way our institutions respond to people’s needs and problematic behaviors. CAIC brings together formerly incarcerated people, family members of currently incarcerated people, concerned community members, advocates, and organizations interested in challenging the use of isolated confinement in New York prisons and jails.

Prayer vigil on October 23 outside the Governor's Mansion in Albany.

Prayer vigil on October 23 outside the Governor's Mansion in Albany.

On the 23rd of every month, following the call of incarcerated people in California, CAIC joins with allies around the country to bring attention to the 23 or more hours per day many people in solitary spend in their cells. Together they demand an end to this practice and the irreparable harm it causes. CAIC’s monthly actions promote one of the campaign’s main goals: the passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A.4401 / S. 2659. This bill would prohibit solitary confinement in excess of 15 days for any person in New York—a recommendation consistent with international standards—and create viable alternatives for addressing people’s needs and behaviors humanely.

CAIC’s monthly actions use personal narratives to convey the urgency and impact of this issue. Each month, the experience of one person currently held in solitary confinement is featured through speak-outs, media outreach, and policy advocacy. CAIC encourages community members to call the governor, prison commissioner, and state legislators to advocate for each highlighted person to be released from solitary, and for New York to end the torture of solitary confinement for everyone. So far, CAIC has brought to light the torture endured by David Pinero, Nicholas Zimmerman, Anthony Davis, and Shawn Smith.

Public actions have been held in multiple districts of New York City and State, focusing in areas where communities have most felt the pain of solitary confinement or where legislators have not yet signed on as sponsors of HALT. CAIC began holding these Together to End Solitary actions in New York starting July 23 with a speak-out in Manhattan, sparking Press TV video coverage and an Associated Press article that was distributed in papers across the state and beyond. August 23 brought CAIC to the Bronx, with coverage of the rally by WNYC and the Gotham Gazette.  CAIC held another powerful speak-out in a different neighborhood of the Bronx on September 23. And on October 23, CAIC held a rally in Brooklyn as well as a TV interview and candlelight vigil in partnership with a local group – Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI) – in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. By mobilizing the community to challenge solitary confinement and forcing the media to hear their critical message, CAIC has brought this often-ignored suffering to the forefront of the state’s political conversation.

CAIC’s Together to End Solitary actions on the 23rd of each month are carried out as part of the broader campaign and movement to pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act and end the torture of solitary in New York. From partnering with Fusionmedia and the Incarcerated Nation Corporation to promote HALT, to conducting workshops following Julia Steele Allen’s and Sara (Mariposa) Fonseca’s powerful Mariposa and the Saint play depicting the torture of solitary, to organizing film screenings and panel discussions utilizing the National Religious Campaign against Torture’s Breaking Down the Box, CAIC is raising public consciousness about the torture of solitary confinement at the same time that it mobilizes people to join the movement and advocates for NY legislators and policy-makers to pass HALT and end the torture of solitary in New York.

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