We are Number One! With 5% of the world population, the United States has nearly 25% of people in prison: 2.2 million individuals.
What is the Racial Ethnic distribution?
As of 2017, there were 1,549 Black prisoners for every 100,000 Black adults—nearly six times the imprisonment rate for whites (272 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (823 per 100,000). As disturbing as this is, it does represent a substantial improvement since 2007 when the rate was 31% higher for Black individuals, 14% higher for white individuals and 25% higher for Hispanic individuals.
(Pew Research, dated 04/30/2019)
Who are these people?
According to Prison Policy Initiative:
1 in 5 individuals are incarcerated with drug related offenses
1 in 4 individuals who go to jail will be reincarcerated within the same year, related in large part to poverty, mental illness and substance abuse.
People imprisoned for violent and sexual offenses are among the LEAST likely to be arrested again. The potential for violence is highest in adolescence and young adulthood. Sentencing keeps these violent offenders incarcerated long after this risk has declined. The man who is 45 years old is not the same person he was at 19 or 24.
What about New York State?
Here is the racial and ethnic diversity in New York State facilities according to the Correctional Association of New York, using figures provided by DOCCS (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision)
Incarceration in New York State has declined significantly. In 2019 there were 54,700 men and women in prison and now there are just over 30,000.
1.Decline in incarceration for drug crimes: Following the reform of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses in 2009, fewer individuals in New York have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for drug crimes. This reduced the percentage of those in prison for drug crimes by 8.8% while increasing the percentage of those for violent felonies by 6.6%.
2. Longer Sentences and More Time Spent in Prison: On average, violent felony charges carry longer sentences than drug charges. On average, the number of months until earliest possible release date increased by 390% percent between 2007 and 2017. Almost 18% of the New York State prison population is serving a life sentence and 44% is serving an indeterminate sentence.
3. An Aging Prison Population: Longer periods spent in prison have produced a more significant aging prison population. While the overall number of people incarcerated in New York’s prisons dropped nearly 20% over the last decade, the percentage of incarcerated people aged 50 or older nearly doubled from 11% of the population in 2007 to 20.1% in 2017. There are currently over 10,000 individuals who are 50-years-old or older incarcerated in state prisons.
4. A Smaller Percentage of Individuals from New York City: In the last decade, crime in New York City has fallen and the City has enacted multiple policy and practice changes to reduce the number of arrests made and cases that result in a prison sentence. Today, a majority (by a very small amount) of individuals incarcerated in New York come from outside NYC.
Jail Decarceration: Thanks to bail reform, when the pandemic struck in early 2020, there were 6,000 fewer people in jail each day than in 2019. This meant that over the course of the pandemic, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have not been subject to the heightened risk of COVID-19 behind bars. However, despite the successes of bail reform, Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature passed rollbacks to the new law in the state budget on April 3rd, 2020, which went into effect on July 1st. Already, we have seen an increase of nearly 500 New Yorkers in jail each day, which translates to even greater increase in jail admissions and therefore exposures.
The Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign works to end mass incarceration and promote racial justice through the release of older and aging people from prison. RAPP is the only campaign in New York State and across the country with the central focus of releasing aging people from prison, rather than expending additional resources to retrofit prisons as nursing homes. In NYS, Adirondack Correctional Facility. has been made into a nursing home for prisoners 60 and older with serious chronic conditions
Older individuals in prison are more likely to experience dementia, impaired mobility, and loss of hearing and vision. In prisons, these ailments present special challenges and can necessitate increased staffing levels and enhanced officer training to accommodate those who have difficulty complying with orders from correctional officers. They can also require structural accessibility adaptations, such as special housing and wheelchair ramps.
Additionally, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, older inmates are more susceptible to costly chronic medical conditions. They typically experience the effects of age sooner than people outside prison because of issues such as substance use disorder, inadequate preventive and primary care before incarceration, and stress linked to the isolation and sometimes violent environment of prison life.
The cost of keeping an individual older than 55 in prison is two to three times as much as a younger person. Malta Justice Initiative states, “According to a new report, the cost per inmate in New York’s prisons is $167,731” . Unfortunately the date for these figures was not stated.
Seeing an aging blind man being led through the prison hallways by another inmate with designation of “Sight Guide” quite honestly raises the question of what is the sense of this!
Parole Boards are composed of 16 individuals appointed by the governor to serve a 6 year term. An incarcerated individual coming before the Board is responsible for putting together a “package” which includes letters of support, reasonable assurance of housing and employment, and programs completed and accomplishments during incarceration.
Parole commissioners are now using Skype for interviews. Lack of familiarity with the tech equipment has led to even greater anxiety for inmates in the few minutes that each man has with the Board.
Personal experience: One inmate shared that he had trouble hearing the board members and thought they were having problems hearing him so he spoke louder. He was concerned that this gave the impression that he was aggressive, certainly not the situation at all.
New York State proposed legislation:
Elder Parole (S.2144/A.4319A): Allows the Parole Board to provide an individualized assessment for potential release to incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have already served 15 or more years in prison–the incarcerated population most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Fair and Timely Parole (S.497A/A.4346A): Ensures that the Parole Board’s release determination for all people applying for parole release is based on who incarcerated people are today, their rehabilitation, and current risk of violating the law, as opposed to centering release decisions exclusively based on the nature of peoples crimes.
In an effort to make the punishment for a particular crime uniform, laws were passed so that, regardless of the circumstances, the convicted individual would have to serve a certain amount of time. It was possible that the person could be sentenced to MORE than that amount of time, but NOT LESS.
What is a result of this? Prosecutors may threaten to charge an individual with a crime carrying a longer mandatory sentence if he or she doesn’t plead guilty to the current charge. There are more guilty pleas, even sometimes when innocent, and this leads to more incarceration. Judges do not have discretionary power any longer.
Three Strikes Laws are another way that judges have lost their power. The premise is that if a person has committed three crimes, they are beyond help and will continue to commit crimes leading to incarceration, so just send them to prison and keep them there! The penalty can be extremely harsh considering the crime committed. There are people with life sentences for committing three petty crimes. On a strictly economic basis, this makes no sense. The government can end up spending $500,000 to keep a person in prison who committed three $500 crimes.
The Torture of Solitary Confinement in NY
People in solitary in NY State spend all day locked in a cell the size of an elevator, alone or with one other person. They do not receive any meaningful programs or therapy.
The sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to intense suffering and severe damage. Isolated confinement fails to address, and often exacerbates, underlying causes of difficult behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially. Roughly a third of all suicides take place in solitary in NY.
Most people sent to isolation in New York State prisons spend months or years there; some individuals have been in solitary confinement in New York’s prisons for more than two decades (upwards of 30 years). The entire United Nations General Assembly has denounced solitary exceeding 15 days. NY currently places no limit on the total time a person can spend in isolated confinement.
Thousands of people are in solitary in NY prisons and jails each day, and tens of thousands each year, at rates worse than the national average. The majority of sentences that result in solitary are for non-violent conduct. Black people represent about 18% of all people in NYS, but 48% of those incarcerated in NYS, and 57% of people held in solitary confinement units in NY. Young people, people with mental illness, and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately likely to be put in isolation.
Many hundreds of people are released directly from solitary to the outside community each year in NY; receiving no educational or rehabilitative programming & no transitional services to help them prepare for their return to society, increasing rates of recidivism.
Any correction officer can write a disciplinary ticket for alleged rule violations. Hearings by DOCCS employees to adjudicate disciplinary tickets that result in solitary confinement are arbitrary and unfair: 95% of people charged with these rule violations are found guilty.
New York State legislation:
HALT Solitary Confinement Act, S.1623 / A.2500
Currently with a majority 34 co-sponsors in the Senate and 79 co-sponsors in the Assembly, HALT would:
– End the torture of solitary: no person can ever be held in isolated confinement beyond 15 days in line with international standards, including the UN Mandela Rules.
– Create more humane & effective alternatives by fundamentally transforming the response to people’s needs/behaviors, from deprivation/isolation to more support, programs, therapy. Anyone separated from general prison population beyond 15 days: at least seven hours per day out-of-cell with meaningful human contact & programs.
– Drastically restrict the criteria that can result in isolation or separation to the most egregious conduct in need of an intensive therapeutic and rehabilitative intervention.
– Ban solitary for people particularly vulnerable to the effects/abuse inside of, isolation.
– Better equip staff to work with incarcerated people (via training). Make the processes resulting in separation fairer (including via legal representation), more transparent (via mandatory reporting), and with more accountability (via outside oversight).
Across the City, State, and country, there is growing support to end solitary confinement, including from leading U.S. Presidential candidates, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. For example, Bernie Sanders has called for “ending solitary confinement,” stating that “solitary confinement is a form of torture and unconstitutional, plain and simple
NY has Increased Solitary & Governor Aims to Perpetuate It
The Governor proposed regulations that will perpetuate solitary and its harm through: a) endless cycling after purported time limits (ie in solitary 90 days, out 1 day, in another 90 days); b) no time limits for keeplock in own cell – another form of solitary; c) purported alternatives that are solitary by another name; d) solitary of young people & people with mental health needs.
A new report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) shows that DOCCS and the Governor want to maintain the status quo and continue to perpetuate solitary. New York prisons have increased the use of solitary confinement — particularly the use of keeplock — in recent years, despite a lawsuit settlement meant to limit the practice, with over 38,000 sentences to solitary confinement last year alone.
The Governor has made blatantly false claims about the costs of implementing HALT. HALT will not require significant, if any, additional funds, and will save the state money.
NY Must Enact the HALT Solitary Confinement Act Now
There need to be REAL time limits on solitary for all people and REAL alternatives to solitary that are not solitary by another name and instead actually will improve safety and be more humane. New York must end this torture.
Programs like the former Merle Cooper Program in New York State, RSVP Program in San Francisco jails, and CAPS program in NYC are examples of what real alternatives should look like, with all day out of cell (at least 7 hours), meaningful congregate programming, and meaningful human engagement.
Far too many minds and lives have been taken or destroyed, including Kalief Browder, Benjamin van Zandt, Layleen Polanco, and countless others. NY can wait no longer.
Beyond passing HALT, New York must move to dismantle the entire injustice and incarceration system, with some priorities this year including: Elder Parole & Fair & Timely Parole, voting rights for people in prison & on parole, higher education in prison, stop staff brutality, marijuana justice, visiting. Also, NYC must completely end solitary.
Solitary Confinement and COVID
Solitary confinement is being used to isolate inmates who are COVID positive. One major problem is that even though the individual is in solitary for medical reasons, he or she is treated as though it is a disciplinary confinement which has led to people not reporting their symptoms because of the “treatment” they will then receive.
More than two-thirds of the United States (34 states) have now either abolished capital punishment (22 states) or not carried out an execution in at least ten years (another 12 states). The past year’s executions were geographically isolated, with just five states, four of them in the South, performing any executions. The largest number of executions and individiuals awaiting execution are in Texas.The Gallup poll found public support for the death penalty near a half-century low, with opposition at its highest level since the 1960s. Local voters, particularly in urban centers and college towns, rejected mass incarceration and harsh punishments, electing new anti-death-penalty district attorneys in counties constituting 12% of the current U.S. death-row population.
Executions and new death sentences in 2020 continued to be directed at defendants and prisoners who were the most vulnerable or who had the most defective court process. Every prisoner executed in 2020 had one or more significant mental or emotional impairments (mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, or chronic trauma) or was under age 21 at the time of the crime for which he was executed. The executed included several prisoners whose more culpable co-defendants received lesser sentences, a prisoner who was denied potentially exculpatory DNA testing, and prisoners whose executions were opposed by victims’ families. Of those who were sentenced to death this year, more than 20% waived key procedural rights.
This past year, the federal government executed more individuals than all the states combined. This is more federal executions than in the entire past 70 years.
– Death Penalty Information Center
– Death Penalty • GBCS (umcjustice.org)
– Center for Justice at Columbia University
– Prison Policy Initiative
– VERA Institute of Justice
– Pew Research
– Brennan Center for Justice
Here are a few of the many activist groups offering webinars, zoom meetings, and (limited due to COVID) in person rallies:
– New Yorkers United for Justice
– The Fortune Society | Building People, Not Prisons
– RAPP Campaign – Release Aging People in Prison
Books to read:
– The Convict Christ by Jens Soering: What the Gospel Says about Criminal Justice
– Charged by Emily Bazelon: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration
– Blind Justice by Mark Godsey: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions
– Punishment without Crime by Alaexsndra Natapoff: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal
Write a card to a prisoner letting them know that you are thinking about them. Not sure what to say? Here are some suggestions.
Do not address the card or envelope and do not sign your full name. Enclose all your cards in a larger envelope and drop them in the church mailbox, or send them to the church:
New Paltz UMC
1 Grove St
New Paltz, NY 12561
The cards will be sent to students of the Rising Hope prison ministry.
Call, write, or email your legislators.
Websites for individual legislators provide easy email communication. Telephone calls and letters to the legislator’s office are encouraged. Attend town halls or representative days in your district. For example, Rep. Delgado has had a staff member representative at the local library. Constituents are invited to come and share their concern.
If you are concerned about a specific piece of legislation, it is helpful to know the designation number. For example, if you are concerned about humane alternatives to solitary confinement in N.Y. State prisons, there is a specific bill: It has an assembly number # A2277 and a Senate number # S1757. At the NY State legislature website, you can track this bill by using these numbers. Also, when you call your legislators, they will often ask for the bill #, so they can pull it up on their computer and give you the latest status. You can also search for federal bills at the US Congress legislature website.
Or you may be concerned about an issue, but not be aware of a specific piece of legislation. That is fine. Email, call or write to communicate your concern and ask your legislator where they stand on the issue. Telephone calls are especially helpful because it gives you the opportunity to interact with the staff.
Finally, there are days, annually, when people go to Albany to lobby for a particular bill or issue.
Information to contact our state and federal government representatives for the New Paltz area (your representatives may be different):
NY State Assembly District 102
Kevin A. Cahill
Gov. Clinton Bldg, suite G-4
1 Albany Ave.
Kingston, N.Y. 12401
LOB( Legislative Office Building) 716
Albany N.Y. 12248
N.Y. Senate district 42
90 North Street, suite 205
Middletown, N.Y. 10940
188 State Street
Legislative Office Building, room 415
Albany N.Y. 12247
District office manager: Jane Kunzweller
If you live in a different NY State district, you can search for your senator: Find My Senator | NY State Senate (nysenate.gov)
New York State Governor
Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
email: use website contact form
US Congress House of Representatives
Antonio Delgado. NY-19
Website is very easy to use. You can easily sign up for email alerts. Rep. Delgado is big on contact with constituents.
1007 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
256 Clinton Ave.
Kingston, N.Y. 12401
Charles Schumer, website refers to him as Chuck
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Email: use website contact form
There are 6 local offices in New York State: Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, NYC, Melville and Peekskill.
478 Russell Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Email: Use website contact form
There are 9 local offices in New York state: Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Hudson, Rochester, North Country, Long Island, New York City and Yonkers.
#HALTSolitary is the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC). Their goal is sweeping reform of New York’s use of solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation in state prisons and local jails. They pursue this goal through public education, community organizing, and support of the Humane Alternative to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which is currently making its way through the New York State Legislature.
HALT sponsors rallies to lobby state legislation in Albany. Here is the call to action from March 1st: Urgent Action Needed for #HALTsolitary
Visit the website to sign up for future events.
Signs of Hope…
The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), S.2836, will:
– Limit the use of segregated confinement in state prisons and county jails and implement alternative rehabilitative measures, including the creation of Residential Rehabilitation Units (RRU).
– Restrict the use of segregated confinement for all incarcerated persons for up to 15 days.
– Expand the definition of segregated confinement to include any form of cell confinement where an individual is held for more than 17 hours a day.
– Mandate additional out-of-cell time and rehabilitative programming for individuals diverted to rehabilitative units after the 15-day limit has been reached.
– Prohibit segregated confinement for special populations for any period of time. Special populations are:
–>Individuals age 21 or younger,
–>Individuals age 55 and over,
–>Individuals with a disability,
–>And individuals who are pregnant, up to eight weeks postpartum, or caring for children in a facility.
– Prohibit the denial of services, treatment, or basic needs such as clothing, food, and bedding while an individual is held in segregated confinement.
– Mandate that staff must undergo 37 hours and 30 minutes initial training prior to assignment on segregated confinement units and 21 additional hours, annually, after assignment.
– Add due process protections by prohibiting placement in segregated confinement prior to a disciplinary hearing and by allowing access to counsel.
– Require DOCCS to publish monthly reports on its website with semi-annual and annual cumulative reports of the total number of people in segregated confinement.
NY State Senate Bill S2836 (nysenate.gov)
#HALTsolitary confinement in New York — New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (nycaic.org)
Special thanks to Susan Ulrich for researching this social justice issue
Each station was researched by one or more members of our church community to help provide the detailed information that has been presented. Are you interested in this social justice issue? Do you have additional information or action items that you would like to share? If so, email us at email@example.com. These web pages are a dynamic, active work in process, just like the people of our community!