WHYY: New Jersey considers restricting the use of solitary confinement

WHYY reports:

Screams so loud that sleep became impossible. Old food rotting in cells. Little to no human interaction for months or years on end.

Those are some of the experiences described Thursday by former New Jersey inmates who said they were held in solitary confinement, as state lawmakers considered legislation to clamp down on the practice critics say can have long-term, negative repercussions.

“I’m not angry with the Department of Corrections. I’m not here because of anger at being incarcerated,” said Nafeesah Goldsmith, a former inmate who said she spent part of her prison term in solitary confinement.

“I’m here because it is the systems that are in place that allow people who are vulnerable to be further abused,” she said.

Press Release: Survivors of Solitary to Testify at Hearing on Bill to Limit Solitary Confinement

When: June 6, 1 p.m.

Where: New Jersey State House/125 West State Street/Trenton, NJ/Committee Room 10 on the third floor

On June 6, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act (A314/S3261) will be heard before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, at 1 p.m. in Committee Room 10 on the third floor of the Trenton State House Annex. The bill, which has already passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee, would ban solitary confinement - also called “isolation” or “isolated confinement” - for more than 15 consecutive days, and allow no more than 20 days per 60-day period.

The bill would also prohibit any member of vulnerable populations, as classified by clinical staff, from being placed in isolation. Vulnerable populations include people aged 21 and younger, people aged 65 and older, people with developmental disability, people with a disability based on mental illness, people with serious medical conditions, and people who are pregnant.

Survivors of solitary confinement in New Jersey prisons will deliver testimony about what they experienced while held in isolation, sometimes for years at a time.

“I survived solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons,” said Justice Rountree, an organizer with the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. “Solitary confinement is torture. In that cell, I was driven to consider suicide.”

A wide coalition of advocates who aim to end the torture of solitary confinement have come together to form the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, a coalition that includes the ACLU of New Jersey, several faith-based organizations, and Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the labor union that represents nurses in New Jersey prisons.

"Our Local 5135, comprised of registered nurses and applied practical nurses in New Jersey state correctional facilities, is standing up against isolated confinement because it creates barriers to necessary medical and mental health care,” Sabrina Brown-Oliver, President, HPAE Local 5135. “Now is the time for the Legislature to stand up for human rights and stand with the union nurses who believe that every inmate deserves quality care and treatment. As a healthcare union, HPAE supports this legislation to end extended isolated confinement and calls upon New Jersey elected officials to do the same.

Former Governor Chris Christie vetoed the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act in 2016 after it passed the state Senate and Assembly. A memorandum attached to the veto falsely claimed, “This Administration does not utilize isolated confinement,” a statement that has been repeatedly debunked. In fact, New Jersey subjects incarcerated people to longer durations in isolated confinement than most states, according to reports published by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and the Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the number of people in its prisons who are held in isolation for more than six years.

The following survivors of solitary confinement will provide testimony at the hearing:

Nafeesah Goldsmith was 26 years old when she was placed in solitary confinement for 60 days at New Jersey State Prison. Nafeesah Goldsmith is pursuing a Master’s degree at Monmouth University and works as a community organizer with New Jersey Together.

Mark Hopkins spent more than 180 days in solitary confinement in New Jersey. He was first tortured by solitary confinement when he was 16 years old. He is now a graduate student at Rutgers-New Brunswick and an organizer with AAUP-AFT.

Ron Pierce is the Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. During his more than 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey prisons, he spent a total of about four years in solitary confinement.

Justice Rountree is an educator, organizer, and an artist. He is the curator of 360 Poetry Nights with Justice, in Newark, NJ. He spent a total of five years in isolation while incarcerated in New Jersey.

Lydia Thornton is an advocate working to end the continuing abuses against people who are incarcerated, the homeless, and most importantly those coming home. In 2013, Lydia Thornton, then 52, spent nine and a half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey.

 

 

 


NJ Spotlight: Lawmakers Seek to Curb Time Inmates [People] Spend in Solitary Confinement

NJ Spotlight reports:

New Jersey lawmakers are trying again to limit the amount of time prisoners can be kept in isolated confinement, as well as the circumstances under which they can be sent to solitary. An effort to do so three years ago got as far as former Gov. Chris Christie’s desk before being vetoed.

Advocates are hoping the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, A-314, will pass both houses again and this time face a better fate with Gov. Phil Murphy, a progressive Democrat. The Assembly Judiciary committee on Monday moved the bill by a 4-2 vote, with both Republican members opposed.

The measure would prohibit the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities unless it is deemed necessary to reduce the risk of serious harm to the inmate or others. A facility would have to justify the use of isolated confinement and then could only keep a person in solitary for 15 consecutive days or 20 days during a two-month period, said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), prime sponsor of the bill.

“This does not end solitary confinement in New Jersey, but instead, it ensures that prisoners are not put in this form of confinement for months or years at a time,” she said. “Study after study shows that the use of long-term isolated confinement will have long-term detrimental effects on the person.”

Tom Morello: New Jersey must end solitary confinement

"Solitary confinement solves no problems; it creates more problems - both for the individuals & their families and for the communities that they're then released into. It's inhumane. It's torture. And it's time we end it in New Jersey,” said rock icon and political activist Tom Morello after meeting with survivors in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Check out the Asbury Park Press coverage of Tom’s conversation with survivors here.

NJ-CAIC releases a new video

Check out our new video about how you can help end solitary confinement in New Jersey.

What is solitary confinement? Does it happen in New Jersey? Why is there a campaign to end prolonged isolation in prisons and jails? Join the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NJ-CAIC) to help us end this harmful practice. Produced & Edited by John Hulme

Amsterdam News: New Jersey survivors of solitary to share stories of life in isolation

Amsterdam News reports:

“We must begin to understand what solitary confinement does to humans,” said Lydia Thornton, who spent nine-and-a-half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey. “It changes our brain chemistry—the studies demonstrate it, and our experiences confirm it. The vast majority of us will come back to our communities. We need to come back better, not more damaged. We call ourselves survivors, because we are. We speak for those who cannot.”

Take Action New Jersey to Support The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act

Please take a moment to call these legislators about “The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.” Contact information and a script can be found below.

Asw. Annette Quijano [District 20 - Union]

Chair of Assembly Judiciary Committee

  1. Dial: (908) 327-9119, ask to speak with Assemblywoman Quijano or her policy aide in regard to Assembly Bill 314, “The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.”

  2. Introduce yourself and mention any relevant identification [“from your district” / organization affiliation]

  3. Urge her to introduce the bill into the Judiciary Committee at its next hearing [see sample script and talking points below].

  4. [Optional, but very helpful] Send a follow-up email, which you can request from the aide, but here are the direct emails:

    1. Assemblywoman Quijano - aswquijano@njleg.org

    2. Seth Levin - slevin@njleg.org

Hello, this is [your name], from [your organization or “the coalition seeking to end solitary confinement in New Jersey”]. I’m calling to firstly thank the Assemblywoman for her affirmative vote on this bill in 2015. This bill is very important to me, because [your reasons--see some talking points below]. As you know, Governor Christie vetoed this same bill in 2016, and we think that NOW is the time to push for humane alternatives to isolation in New Jersey. Because we plan to show up in large numbers to support the bill, we would love to know when the next hearing date will be, since it isn’t listed on the legislative calendar. [if leaving a voicemail] You can reach out [me/us] at [Your number, or NJ-CAIC phone: 732-347-6508]. Thank you for your time and your support.

Talking points:

  • Prolonged solitary confinement, by any name or for any reason, is cruel and inhumane according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

  • Isolation is immoral, as it denies people access to meaningful human contact, and it severely restricts access to education, healthcare, and rehabilitative programs.

  • Solitary confinement is costly, and studies show that reducing the amount of time in-cell actually reduces institutional violence between incarcerated people and corrections staff.

  • Isolation is disproportionately used against people of color--and at proportions higher than most other states. [source: The 2018 ASCA-Liman report called “Aiming to Reduce Time In-Cell”]

  • Many states are developing humane alternatives, which are listed and updated on the Vera Institute for Justice website: [www.SafeAlternativesToSegregation.org]

  • This is the most progressive legislation on solitary confinement in the nation, and would truly put New Jersey in the vanguard for progressive and humane correctional practices.

  • [“As you know,”] This bill offers vital protections for vulnerable populations, including people with serious mental illnesses, people needing urgent medical care, youth, the elderly, and pregnant women.

  • Other reasons… [Event you attended; you or someone you know was impacted; etc.]

  • More info on solitary in NJ: www.njcaic.org


Asm. Craig Coughlin [District 19 - Middlesex]

Speaker of the Assembly

  1. Dial: (732) 855-7441, ask to speak with Speaker Coughlin or his policy aide in regard to Assembly Bill 314, “The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.”

  2. Introduce yourself and mention any relevant identification [“from your district” / organization affiliation]

  3. Urge him to support the bill by requesting it to be heard at the next Judiciary Committee hearing, and by putting it up for a floor vote, as soon as possible [see sample script and talking points below].

  4. [Optional, but very helpful] Send a follow-up email, which you can request from the aide, but here are the direct emails:

    1. Speaker Coughlin - asmcoughlin@njleg.org

    2. Dan Harris - dharris@njleg.org

Hello, this is [your name], from [your organization or “the coalition seeking to end solitary confinement in New Jersey”]. I’m calling to firstly thank the Speaker for his sponsorship of A.314. This bill is very important to me, because [your reasons--see some talking points below]. As you know, Governor Christie vetoed this same bill in 2016, and we think that NOW is the time to push for humane alternatives to isolation in New Jersey. Because we plan to show up in large numbers to support the bill, we would love to know when the next hearing date will be, since it isn’t listed on the legislative calendar. [if leaving a voicemail] You can reach out [me/us] at [Your number, or NJ-CAIC phone: 732-347-6508]. Thank you for your time and your support.

Talking points:

  • Prolonged solitary confinement, by any name or for any reason, is cruel and inhumane according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

  • Isolation is immoral, as it denies people access to meaningful human contact, and it severely restricts access to education, healthcare, and rehabilitative programs.

  • Solitary confinement is costly, and studies show that reducing the amount of time in-cell actually reduces institutional violence between incarcerated people and corrections staff.

  • Isolation is disproportionately used against people of color--and at proportions higher than most other states. [source: The 2018 ASCA-Liman report called “Aiming to Reduce Time In-Cell”]

  • Many states are developing humane alternatives, which are listed and updated on the Vera Institute for Justice website: [www.SafeAlternativesToSegregation.org]

  • This is the most progressive legislation on solitary confinement in the nation, and would truly put New Jersey in the vanguard for progressive and humane correctional practices.

  • [“As you know,”] This bill offers vital protections for vulnerable populations, including people with serious mental illnesses, people needing urgent medical care, youth, the elderly, and pregnant women.

  • Other reasons… [Event you attended; you or someone you know was impacted; etc.]

  • More info on solitary in NJ: www.njcaic.org


Sen. Linda Greenstein [District 14 - Mercer]

Chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee

  1. Dial: (609) 395-9911, ask to speak with Senator Greenstein or her policy aide in regard to Senate Bill 3261, “The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.”

  2. Urge her to support the bill by introducing it at the next Law and Public Safety Committee hearing [see sample script and talking points below].

  3. [Optional, but very helpful] Send a follow-up email, which you can request from the aide, but here are the direct emails:

    1. Senator Greenstein - sengreenstein@njleg.org

Hello, this is [your name], from [your organization or “the coalition seeking to end solitary confinement in New Jersey”]. I’m calling to firstly thank the Senator for her affirmative votes for this bill in 2015. This bill is very important to me, because [your reasons--see some talking points below]. As you know, Governor Christie vetoed this same bill in 2016, and we think that NOW is the time to push for humane alternatives to isolation in New Jersey. Because we plan to show up in large numbers to support the bill, we would love to know when the next hearing date will be, since it isn’t listed on the legislative calendar. [if leaving a voicemail] You can reach out [me/us] at [Your number, or NJ-CAIC phone: 732-347-6508]. Thank you for your time and your support.

Talking points:

  • Prolonged solitary confinement, by any name or for any reason, is cruel and inhumane according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

  • Isolation is immoral, as it denies people access to meaningful human contact, and it severely restricts access to education, healthcare, and rehabilitative programs.

  • Solitary confinement is costly, and studies show that reducing the amount of time in-cell actually reduces institutional violence between incarcerated people and corrections staff.

  • Isolation is disproportionately used against people of color--and at proportions higher than most other states. [source: The 2018 ASCA-Liman report called “Aiming to Reduce Time In-Cell”]

  • Many states are developing humane alternatives, which are listed and updated on the Vera Institute for Justice website: [www.SafeAlternativesToSegregation.org]

  • This is the most progressive legislation on solitary confinement in the nation, and would truly put New Jersey in the vanguard for progressive and humane correctional practices.

  • [“As you know,”] This bill offers vital protections for vulnerable populations, including people with serious mental illnesses, people needing urgent medical care, youth, the elderly, and pregnant women.

  • Other reasons… [Event you attended; you or someone you know was impacted; etc.]

  • More info on solitary in NJ: www.njcaic.org


Others: Your Legislator [Your District]

Committee Rosters: Senate and Assembly

  1. Dial: [phone number], ask to speak with [name of Legislator] or [his/her] policy aide in regard to [Assembly Bill 314 / Senate Bill 3261], “The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act.”

  2. Introduce yourself and mention any relevant identification [“from your district” / organization affiliation]

  3. Urge her to support the bill [see sample script and talking points below].

  4. [Optional, but very helpful] Send a follow-up email, which you can request from the aide.

Hello, this is [your name], from [your organization or “the coalition seeking to end solitary confinement in New Jersey”]. I’m calling to support this crucial solitary reform bill. This bill is very important to me, because [your reasons--see some talking points below]. As you know, Governor Christie vetoed this same bill in 2016, and we think that NOW is the time to push for humane alternatives to isolation in New Jersey. We would love to count on your support [in committee / when it goes to a floor vote]. [if leaving a voicemail] You can reach out [me/us] at [Your number, or NJ-CAIC phone: 732-347-6508]. Thank you for your time and your support.

Talking points:

  • Prolonged solitary confinement, by any name or for any reason, is cruel and inhumane according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

  • Isolation is immoral, as it denies people access to meaningful human contact, and it severely restricts access to education, healthcare, and rehabilitative programs.

  • Solitary confinement is costly, and studies show that reducing the amount of time in-cell actually reduces institutional violence between incarcerated people and corrections staff.

  • Isolation is disproportionately used against people of color--and at proportions higher than most other states. [source: The 2018 ASCA-Liman report called “Aiming to Reduce Time In-Cell”]

  • Many states are developing humane alternatives, which are listed and updated on the Vera Institute for Justice website: [www.SafeAlternativesToSegregation.org]

  • This is the most progressive legislation on solitary confinement in the nation, and would truly put New Jersey in the vanguard for progressive and humane correctional practices.

  • [“As you know,”] This bill offers vital protections for vulnerable populations, including people with serious mental illnesses, people needing urgent medical care, youth, the elderly, and pregnant women.

  • Other reasons… [Event you attended; you or someone you know was impacted; etc.]

  • More info on solitary in NJ: www.njcaic.org

NJ Spotlight: Support legislation to restrict solitary confinement in NJ prisons

Tricia Idrobo, a volunteer for Unitarian Universalist Faith Action of NJ, a member organization of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, writes for NJ Spotlight:

As we go about our busy lives, it is easy not to give much thought to, or even hear about, what goes on in our country’s prisons, including the widespread use of isolated confinement, also known as solitary confinement. If we don’t know anyone in prison, it doesn’t affect us, right?

Not so quick. Putting aside humanitarian concerns for the moment, we know that many ex-prisoners are eventually released into the community, which means their lives directly and indirectly affect the character of our communities. If nothing else, we are all footing the bill through our taxes. Whether we like it or not, we all have a stake in this issue.

Micropolis Live: Surviving Solitary

Solitary confinement is torture. It's been linked to lifelong physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, paranoia and depression.

For this special event survivors of solitary confinement will share their experiences in story-slam performances and conversation. Micropolis host Arun Venugopal will also be joined by members of the ACLU-NJ, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the NJ Coalition for Alternatives to assess where we are in this moment of criminal justice reform.

We’ll also have small group breakouts so you can have unfiltered conversations with the host, survivors and panelists, as well as your fellow New Yorkers.

And you’ll even have a chance to see what solitary confinement is like through virtual reality. Please click here to learn more and to purchase tickets.

Event Details:

Wednesday, January 23

Tickets: $15

Arrive between 6-6:30 pm to take advantage of the Virtual Reality experience in the lobby. Performance from 7-9 pm.

Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Venue: The Greene Space

44 Charlton Street, New York, NY
(corner of Varick Street)

 

Lydia Thornton on Solitary Confinement: How am I going to make it through today?

In 2013, Lydia Thornton, then 52, spent nine and a half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey. She is now an advocate working to end the continuing abuses against people who are incarcerated, the homeless, and most importantly those coming home. Lydia spoke with Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg for NJ-CAIC about solitary confinement, or as it is referred to in New Jersey, Administrative Segregation. The interview has been edited with Lydia for clarity.

How long are you locked in your cell per day?

What shocks people is that it is 24 hours some days. Three times a week you get out for a shower and you walk down this row and you go to shower, which is locked and come back.  If you take longer than 7-8 minutes they will turn the water either off, or to cold only.

What was a typical day in solitary?

As I recall, start time generally 5:30, 6 a.m.. Somebody will pound on your door to make sure that you move. The verification is that you're still alive. It really is that simple. If you move, they move on. If you don't, they keep pounding. It's like their job is to ensure that you survived the night and that's an odd statement even coming out of my mouth.

And then breakfast somewhere around 7. And then it's just, you figure out what you're going to do with your day because you're not going anywhere. It's like, “How am I going to make it through today without losing my damn mind?”

Whether you read, whether you write, there are too many hours. If you have been "well-behaved" enough to get a TV or afford to buy one or afford to buy a radio. NPR became my best friend because somebody left me a radio. NPR out of Philly.

And then you just lay there, maybe do some stretching -- and what are you going to do until 11:30 when it's lunch? Then what are you going to do until 4 when it's dinner? You do control your own lights unless they decide to turn them all on. If everybody's making too much noise they'll just turn them all on at night and leave until everybody shuts up.

The officers walk by once an hour to check -- it's not that you're still there because you couldn't get out, it's whether you're still breathing. If you need something or want something in between? Tough luck, you wait until the hour because nobody's coming before that.

I have heard people yell for a guard for 20 minutes straight because somebody next to them said they were going to hurt themselves, or you could hear them fall, or something happened. No one will come because it's not their hour to walk.

Do you ever get to go outside?

Three days a week it's mandatory that you are Offered to go outside in what they call ‘recreation’ and I call a dog run, because that's what it is. It's fully fenced, including the top.

I went out once, and said I'd never do it again and I didn't. Outside sounds like a wonderful break, I chose not to go because you're strip searched to go outside. You strip in your cell. They watch you and check your clothes. Give your clothes back. You put all your clothes back on. You go outside and you walk around in a circle in this dog run for two hours.

If it's too cold, too hot, too whatever, doesn't matter, they don't bring you back in. The only caveat is if, I think, it starts raining while you're out there, they have to bring you back in. But you can't come back in otherwise - so if you need to go to the bathroom, doesn't matter. You stay out until everyone comes back in and then you're strip searched again.

Well, for me, strip searches are one of those things that are such an affront to dignity that I swore going outside was just not worth it.

How did solitary confinement impact you?

I will tell you, to this day I can't stand noise; because noise reverberates off steel doors and off cinder block walls. It echoes. Part of the noise is because the only way you can communicate with each other is to yell through the steel door.  The other part is people screaming just to know that they are alive.

Can you talk about the kind of contact you had with other people when you were in solitary?

In terms of human contact it is less than none because all of it is negative. You would actually be better off with none.

There was one young lady -- she had mental health issues to begin with. She would flip out and just get tired of it all -- the guards, her head, get done with all of it. She would pound her head, try to do something to hurt herself and they would take her out for a day and then bring her right back. And it was an ongoing thing at some point she and I started talking. She liked me because I was quiet.  She was housed two doors down from me, and would say hi if she walked to the showers.

One day she had punched her wall, repeatedly. I could hear her. She was yelling about something. She was upset about something. She'd be punching her wall.

This young lady was walking to the shower and she put her hand in my food port to show me how badly hurt it was. And my instinct being me, being a mother, the first thing I did was kind of gently stroke it. You just reach out. That's what normal humans do. She looked at me and started to cry. And I was like, “I'm so sorry, I didn't even think that that must have hurt like hell when I touched it.” She shook her head and kept going to the shower. As she came back from the shower, I was standing at my door. I said, “Are you okay? I'm so sorry I hurt you.”

She's like, “No, you don't understand. That's the first time I've been touched by other than a guard with any kind of kindness in two years.” It broke me. I was done.

The only touch you have is to drag you out of the cell or to put handcuffs on you or to escort you. These aren't people who give a damn about you. They're people whose job it is to move you to point A to point B, or to stop you from doing whatever you're doing. Not saying all guards are bad. There are decent people in there but they have a job to do. Their job is NOT to create positive human impact.

How would you define solitary in one word?

Torture. Because humans were not designed to be in complete isolation for long periods of time.

More than 90 percent of the individual humans sitting in prison right now, no matter what level of housing they're sitting in, are coming home at some point, whether it's next week, next year, next decade, they're coming to our communities.

People ask me a lot, why should I care? They're prisoners. They earned their spot there. They, they, they.

You should care because at some point they're coming back to your community. How do you want them to come back? Better or worse?

You're appalled by the crime they originally committed. You want them angrier, less stable, less healthy or do you want them to actually be able to become part of your community?

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Ron Pierce: Solitary confinement is designed to break the human spirit

Ron Pierce is the Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. During his more than 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey prisons, he spent a total of about four years in solitary confinement. He spoke with Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg for NJ-CAIC about his time in solitary and how solitary is designed to break the human spirit. The interview has been edited with Ron for clarity.

When were you allowed outside of your cell?

You get an hour and a half of yard every other day. Other than that you stay in your cell. That's where your mind can play tricks on you. Everybody's yelling back and forth to each other but there's no contact.

There was one guy on one side of me had such a mental breakdown that he was literally in his cell by himself having a fight with his girlfriend every night. Throwing himself against the wall, yelling at her, beating himself up, trying to beat her up too.

On the other side, the guy painted his cell with his own feces. He had to have constant observation and his light was attached to mine, so 24 hours a day my light was on. Because I only have one eye that closes and one eye doesn't close, it was hard to get sleep. I had to sleep with the pillow over my head. 

I was glad to have kept as many faculties as I have.

What was your access to showers?

You got a shower every morning if you woke early enough to catch the officer as they ran past your cell.

How do you respond when people say that it’s not solitary if two people are in the cell?

Solitary confinement if you're by yourself is bad. Solitary confinement if you're with somebody else, constantly in this small space together -- it's worse. I would recommend try living in a bathroom size room with one other person for a short time and maybe it would give you an understanding of why it is worse.

How has solitary impacted you?

It still has an impact on me. The thing about that is I know what it was. I knew. I studied enough. It's as limited on me as it can be but I still find myself -- if the noise is too loud—getting tense or if I get put in a small room I still feel... if I get closed in an office it's not good. I was never a claustrophobic person, but now I find myself very conscious about entrances and exits.

When I moved into the Highland Park house, I was on the top floor and each of us had our own room. When I was in that room and the door was closed I felt trapped. I moved up to Secaucus. I have a basement, I have a yard. I have the outside deck. I feel good but put me in a small closed area and I start to sweat. I can feel choking up. I feel my heart race.

What was the hardest part of being in solitary confinement?

The hardest thing was to maintain civility because you get edgy about everything. I can give you one instance. There was a guy I went to high school with who became a social worker. He was walking around seeing if anybody needed his assistance and he spotted me.

He started trying to hold a conversation. To this day, I don't know why but I snapped at him -- “Get away from me.” I started yelling at him and I still don't know why and I never saw him again since then to apologize to him.

I had just finished my 30 days in the hole when I told you about the people on either side of me. I was in that cell. I was badly sleep deprived and I hadn't had a shower in a couple days so I was highly agitated when he came to the door.

All he wanted was -- “Do you need anything? Do you need any help?” I ran him off. I think I scared him and I didn't mean to but that's just where my head was at the time. I'll always remember that. I hope one day to come across him to apologize to him and just let him know that wasn't me. That was just a ghost from somewhere within.

How did you survive solitary?

I had a routine. I didn't want to numb myself with the TV. I would watch the morning news until nine. I would put the TV under the locker freeing my desk to write on. I would study/write from 9 to 5. Five o’clock I would eat. Six o’ clock I would bring the TV back up and I would watch TV ‘til I went to bed. That was the routine I had.

I went out in the yard because you have to get out of the cell once in a while. But the problem with going to the yard is as soon as you go to the yard, the officers come in, tear your cell up. That's their way of saying -- “You shouldn't go to the yard.” I didn't care. I went to the yard anyway.

That's how I was able to sustain. You have to develop a routine.

Some guys they'll play chess. They'll call a chess move out to the guy they're playing with. He'll call a chess move back. And they'll have made pieces of crumpled up papers so they know where every piece is. That's how people survive. If you don't keep your mind active then you're going lose a piece of it.

How would you respond to claims that New Jersey does not use solitary confinement?

I would say -- take me to 7 Wing in Trenton and show me that it's not a solitary confinement unit. Take me into Bordentown Ad Seg unit and show me it's not a solitary confinement unit. Just because you house two people in a cell doesn't make it less solitary confinement. It actually makes it worse.

What is phase one of administrative segregation if it's not solitary confinement? Phase one is the replacement of Disciplinary Detention.  You're not allowed any property. You're not allowed any radio, any TV. Your yard time is one hour every two days or one and a half hours every two days. What do you call solitary confinement? Just because two people are in an 8 by 12 room doesn't make it less solitary confinement. That's just a total, total out and out lie.

If you could choose one word to describe solitary confinement, what would it be?

Torture. That's all it is. It's a mental deprivation. It's meant to break you, to take your humanity from you. That's what it's designed to do. It's designed to take your mental stability away from you so that they can control you and that's why a lot of the isolation units are called control units or management units.

Administrative segregation is the administration segregating you from the rest of the population but for the purpose of control. It's meant to make you passive by breaking your human spirit. That's why I would call it torture.

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Mark Hopkins: Solitary confinement is torture

Mark Hopkins spent more than 180 days in solitary confinement in New Jersey. He was first tortured by solitary confinement when he was 16 years old. He is now a graduate student at Rutgers-New Brunswick and an organizer with AAUP-AFT.

Below is Mark’s interview with Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg for NJ-CAIC:

What was your first experience with solitary confinement?

I was 16.

One of my cousins was a gangbanger. In his mail he'd sign off with a gang greeting and he was sending it to me from a juvenile facility.

I was in Garden State Youth Correctional Facility/Yardville. They ran down to my room like a standard raid. When they went into my room, they went through all my mail and saw that at the end of the letter. The letter itself had nothing do with anything gang related at all. It was just - “How you doing? I know you just got all this time. Keep your head up.”

They sent me into solitary confinement by saying I had gang materials, STG material -- ‘Security Threat Group’ material. They gave me, I think it was 15 days in solitary confinement.

It's just bars. They strip you of anything that you could possibly use to kill yourself so no shoelaces. Just the fireproof blanket that they give you. Then three hots and a cot. No other contact whatsoever. Shower every other day. When you want to leave you have to go with two officers. You'll be cuffed at your back. When you walk by in the facility everybody else that's in the hallway or can see you, has to turn around and not face you and give you their back.

You're completely ostracized from the general population.

When did you next go into solitary confinement?

A year or so later, I was 17. This was 2008, 2009.

I did 15 days of solitary confinement and then they added 180 days of administrative segregation. [Administrative segregation is solitary confinement but in a separate unit in another building.]

I was in Garden State Youth Correctional Facility and now I'm in Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility. Once I went to Wagner my family didn't even know where I was. No one even knows where I'm at. I'm in the ad seg unit. I'm still 17. I didn't have the greatest family support but I still had family that would still expect me to call at least once a month.

When you go into the ad seg unit, two officers are escorting you. You're cuffed. They take you into this cage type of holding cell. It's open to the rest of the rooms in the entire ad seg building. Everybody's door faces this center spot and you're strip searched.

You're standing there naked. They'll cuff you while you were naked and go through all your things and do the paperwork to transfer you over.

Once they transfer you over to the housing officer then they'll tell you to put your clothes on.

What was it like when you walked into the administrative segregation unit?

The experience going in is shocking. Everyone's yelling through the door. When you first come in, everyone wants to know who you are and if they know you because people are trying to find human connections at the end of the day.

When you come in there and you don't understand, people will think -- “Damn, people are just yelling at you from this way, from that way.”

But what's actually happening is people are trying to find other human connections. They're trying to see if it's someone they know and then they want to be like - “Yeah, you're going to be good, this is easy, you're going to be alright.”

Because the officer that's housed there doesn't want to hear the yelling, they put this huge thick newspaper and industrial fan that's blowing so the blades are smacking the newspaper. So it's that sound on top of everybody yelling 24/7 and then you just hear the gates and cuffs moving.

You were a juvenile at this time -- did that affect how you were treated?

They realized I was a juvenile when they were first admitting me in. They were like - “Yo, Sarge, we can't have him in the room with anybody because he's a juvenile so what do we do?” They're like - “Just put him in the room by his fucking self.”

So they put me in a room by myself.

How did you make connections with other people?

Whoever was in the cell next to me, I don't know what he looks like, I just know his hand is a white hand.

I was in the room every night just having these mental breakdowns.

He must have heard me one of those nights talking to myself, breaking down crying. He was like -- “Yo, you need a cigarette?” And I was like - “Hell, yeah, I need a cigarette.” So he gave me half a pack of cigarettes which is valuable as hell. He said, “If you just give me a Reese's, I'll buy a pack of cigarettes for you.” So I started doing that. He was giving it to me just because he knew I needed it. I trade cigarettes with him and then we'd talk a little bit.

What was your access to showers?

My hygiene started to decline exponentially fast.

The first shift officers will pop the door open for two seconds. You have to rush to the door, put your hand out -- “Yo, yo, yo, give me the shower, I'm up.”

I didn't shower for weeks at a time. I had no shower for weeks.

Were you able to leave your cell to exercise?

The only other way to take your mind off things would be exercising. They know by law they have to give us 5 hours worth of exercise in a week. You had to put your name on a list and you had to get on that list by staying up and giving your name to the third shift officer at 4:00 in the morning.

Rec is at 11:00 AM or noon. You had to be up all morning and then hopefully -- because you don't have an alarm clock and usually you're not allowed to have electronics until you're on a certain phase so there's no way to know the time -- you just have to guess and you can't take a nap because nobody's going to wake you up so you're basically just up that whole day.

You got to dedicate your mind to staying up throughout that entire night, all the way up until you can put your name on that list, all the way until it's time to go out for rec. You go outside into this small little cage and workout, talk to other people.

Those 2.5 hours isn't the whole 2.5 hours. You're only getting 45 minutes outside.

Everything that's supposed to be put in place for you to have human contact or to somehow soften the blow of the torture solitary confinement is based upon is slow, non-working or just completely inoperable to the point where it's nonexistent.

What happened to your education while you were in solitary confinement?

I was in high school at the time, still supposed to be doing my educational work. They slide a packet of fifth grade math and literacy and say -- “Okay, there's your school work that you have to do.” I remember going -- “This is below what I need to do. Don't give me this.”

They basically ignored me on that front completely so my whole education was stopped. It was paused right there.

What impact did solitary confinement have on your mental health?

I mentally started to deteriorate in ways in which I can't even explain.

No night I was able to go to sleep so the only way for me to try to go to sleep is I'd take my sweater, I don't care how cold it was -- it was cold as hell sometimes because the heating and ventilation systems obviously suck -- so it was cold as hell. I had a little fireproof blanket and I just had a shirt on. I took my sweater and tied the pillow around my head and stuffed my ears with toilet paper just enough so I can try to get some sort of quieter atmosphere. Even to this day I still sleep with a pillow on my head. I don't even need to anymore but I still think of a bug crawling in my ear.

You were sent back to solitary in 2011 or 2012. Why were sent back to solitary confinement?

I'm a model inmate. I go to school. I got a job. On the tier, I'm quiet.

One of my close friends was arrested and they were facing a lot of time so I wanted to get in contact with him. I had asked one of the educational staff members if they could get the information for me so I can write him, send a letter out.

I consider this person like my brother. So I got information on him. She was like -- “Do you want me to get anybody else?” I'm like -- “Yeah, get my cousin too because my cousin just got arrested too.” I'm like - this is great, I'm going to be able to write my cousin. I hadn't contacted him in years. I'm going to be able to write my brother.

She prints their face sheets out for me in color. It's not really a big deal. We can write other inmates. That's not an issue. How I got the information was not according to the rules.

I had a standard pat down. He pats me down and sees the papers. We can have each other's information in order to write each other but we can't have a full face sheet even though it's open to the public on inmate search.

They were trying to find where I got the information from. I'm not going to tell you where I got it from. I'm not threatening nobody's job that feeds their kids because it's two pieces of paper you all feel seriously about.

I got 15 days solitary confinement and 90 days ad seg.

How do the officers treat people in solitary confinement?

Officers respond to us as if we're constant threats and because of that the only way that they feel comfortable controlling us is through aggression and violence and retaliation and hate for little minor things.

The only time they open your port is for them to insert your trays which they always threaten to not give you. All the time. If they don't like you or if you all shared words while you're behind your door, the officer can completely within their power say -- “You're not eating today. You're not eating all day. You might not eat this week. You better tell your bunkie to share it with you.”

They might just give the bunkie the tray and won't give you the tray. You know your bunkie's not going to let you starve so you're both going to have to survive off of a meal for one person for a whole week or so. They did that shit constantly.

You were in solitary confinement one more time -- in January of 2017 -- when you had been living in a halfway house. Can you tell me about that?

I had got sent back from a halfway house. They had thought I was intoxicated. My blood and my urine and my eyes and my on-spot nurse exam had said -- not only was I sober but I was in my complete right mind.

I had OD'd on a leg workout and turned a corner and stumbled a little bit and they thought I was drunk.

They assume when you come in from the halfway house it's because you were intoxicated so what they do is strip you completely naked. They put you in an anti-suicide suit and then for 3 days you are on camera, light is constantly on. No bed, no sheets, no anything, no forks, no spoons to even eat your food so you have to eat your food with the corner of the styrofoam.

I was there for three days in the suicide part and then another two days on a regular solitary confinement ward.

It was very torturous experience because I had come so far to come back right there. The whole thing is mentally, physically and emotionally torturing.

A couple guys were trying to kill themselves. One guy across from me was screaming, banging his head on the glass until it was just blood everywhere. He was eating his own fecal matter. The only thing they did with him would just beat him up more and then strap him to a chair and then put a needle in him after he begged them not to -- “I'm gonna calm down, I'm gonna calm down.” They just put the needle in him anyway.

What is one word you would use to describe solitary confinement?

Torture. Simple as that.

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Justice Rountree: Solitary confinement must be ended

NJ-CAIC organizer and solitary survivor Justice Rountree writes for the Asbury Park Press:

I served 23 years inside New Jersey prisons and jails, and I witnessed firsthand the damage caused by inhumane housing practices. I witnessed the dilapidated conditions of these “restrictive housing” units, which housed not only humans, but rats, mice, roaches and mold. I watched strong men mentally deteriorate, and I watched sick men become swallowed up by their physical and mental illnesses. As a paralegal, I represented people who were at risk of prolonged isolation not just for violent behavior or institutional safety, but also for petty, political, or even retaliatory reasons.

I spent a total of five years in isolation. I counted and re-counted every crack in the ceiling. I survived the extreme cold of winter, the extreme heat of summer, the haunting screams of other isolated people, and the eerie silence that nearly convinced me I was alone and forgotten.


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Nafeesah Goldsmith: Solitary Confinement is Diabolical

In 2006, Nafeesah Goldsmith was 26 years old when she was placed in solitary confinement for 60 days at New Jersey State Prison. She was locked in her cell for 23 hours a day, sometimes 24 hours a day.

Nafeesah was released from prison on June 23, 2015 and is now pursuing a Master’s degree at Monmouth University and works as a community organizer with New Jersey Together.

Nafeesah spoke with Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg for NJ-CAIC about her experience with solitary confinement:

What was your access to showers and feminine hygiene products?

We were supposed to shower every day but a lot of times, depending on how the officers feel you may not get out to shower for a few days.

If you don't have any sanitary napkins and you ask for some, some of the officers will say to you, “Use a sock or use toilet paper because they don't feel like going to go get those things for you.”

What was it like to be denied sanitary napkins?

You felt like an animal. You felt just like an animal. Like, come on. I'm a human being. You know, regardless of what reason I'm in prison. I'm still a human being and it makes you feel, it makes you feel like shit. That's what it makes you feel like.

Can you describe a typical day and night in solitary?

Breakfast around 6 am. Many of us wouldn’t like the food so most times I would just sleep through breakfast. I might try to have the coffee but that was horrible. Therefore, you may want to save a piece of toast or boiled egg to eat for later.

But for the most part I would sleep until about lunch.

I read quite a bit. And that's how you escape so writing letters, listening to music was a pass-time because you have your Walkman radio. That was it for me.

Usually what happens is right after lunch you can go out to rec [but] it has to be your rec day. You have to be stripped in your cell. You can't have any clothes on when they come and you have to pass your clothes through the slot to the officers. While you're in your cell they can see you through glass and instruct you on what do -- raising your feet, squatting and coughing, lifting your breasts, checking your mouth. That was a part of the procedure just going out to rec.

At night it all depends on who was next door to your cell. You could stay up and talk to them or find some sort of entertainment like we would do things that were really entertaining for us. We would play games like “In the mix.” Someone would sing a song and they'd sing it up until a certain point and then they'll say -- “In the mix.” Then the next person would pick up where they left off. We would do that for hours.

We'd play hangman. All sorts of stuff just to try to keep ourselves from going crazy.

How did you play hangman?

Basically you would tell the person however many spaces was for the phrase or the word and say, “name of a person, place or thing.” And you'd tell them how many spaces it is. They will just start guessing letters and as they start to fill it out they're also writing it down on their paper in their cell and that's how we would do it.

How would you explain solitary?

I would describe it as being an animal in a cage. That's it. There's no fancy way to paint the picture.

Why is it important to speak out?

We have to take ownership of our own stories and experiences. Our oppressors are the ones who normally take ownership of the narrative and it's never the right story therefore, I would rather speak up and state my name and let my truth be told because if I don't do it, somebody else will and it won't be my experience.

How would you describe solitary with one word?

Diabolical. Because it is. Only an evil mind would think to create a system where you lock people away. It's like being in a dungeon. That's evil as shit.

Do you have anything else to add?

I would say that when referencing individuals who have experience with solitary confinement, the term survivor should be used--  It shows that the individual is a human being who survived conditions that the masses will never fathom. I think when we do talk about this we definitely have to make it known as to why we are survivors, because we are.

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NJ-CAIC October 2018 Newsletter

News from New Jersey:

New Report on Solitary Released: New Jersey subjects its prisoners to longer durations in isolated confinement than most states, according to reports published by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and the Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School. The report found that New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the number of its prisoners who are held in isolation for more than six years. New Jersey also disproportionately uses solitary confinement against Black and Hispanic prisoners. Over two-thirds of all isolated women and over three-fourths of all isolated men are “Black” or “Hispanic,” according to the report.

Local Media Highlights Work to End Solitary in New Jersey: Check out this segment from NJTV on the Liman report, featuring Rev. Charles Boyer and Lydia Thompson. And check out this report from NJ101.5 with Rev. Boyer and Justice Rountree.

Media Training for Solitary Survivors: On Saturday, October 6 survivors of solitary confinement from New Jersey and New York attended an all-day media training at the Columbia University School of Social Work. Among the day’s presenters were Justice Rountree and Amos Caley with NJ-CAIC; Khalil Cumberbatch, Associate Vice-President of Policy at The Fortune Society; Marlon Peterson, host of the Decarcerated podcast; and Johnny Perez, Director of U.S. Prisons Programs for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Survivors’ Stories: NJ-CAIC has launched a storytelling project to interview survivors of solitary confinement. These stories will be shared with members of the public and legislators to build support for the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act (A.314). If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg at elizabethwg@gmail.com.  

National News:

Unlock the Box: Advocates from across the country have joined to launch the Unlock the Box campaign, with the goal of ending #SolitaryConfinement in the next ten years. To learn more, visit unlocktheboxcampaign.org and help us #StopSolitary.


NJ101.5: Rats and Mold? Isolated confinement at NJ prisons called 'horrific'

NJ101.5 reports:

Whether the state wants to call it solitary confinement or restrictive housing, isolation of inmates is used too often and for too long in New Jersey, and conditions of the living quarters are horrific, social justice advocates say.

They're hoping a measure vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie, which would restrict the use of isolated confinement in correctional facilities, will have a better shot under the current administration.

Newark resident Justice Rountree, who's spent at least five years total in isolation while serving a 23-year prison sentence, said the accommodations are torturous at best.