Leading Advocacy Groups Sponsor Event at St. Bart’s Church to End Prolonged Solitary Confinement in New York State
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 17, 2016
Benny Witkovsky, West End Strategy Team
Benny@westendstrategy.com; (o) 202-766-7700, (c) 202-765-4290
New York, NY - The St. Bart’s Church, Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, Circles of Support, Correctional Association of NY, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) are sponsoring an event on October 20, 2016 to educate the public about solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails, and to advocate for passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A4401/S2659), legislation which would implement humane alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in New York State. In place of isolation, the bill proposes rehabilitative and therapeutic interventions to address the root causes of behavior. This presentation and panel discussion, featuring formerly incarcerated individuals and other subject matter experts, is free and open to the public.
Momentum to confront the practice of solitary confinement in New York State, in states from coast to coast and at the federal level has been steadily growing for the last several years. With the recent growth in media coverage and the historic reforms won in court by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2016, a grass-roots coalition of local organizations has formed in recent years to build on and continue this forward trajectory.
Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture's U.S. Prisons Program, said, "The HALT Act is crucial for New York, and is also serving as a model nationally in the movement to abolish the torture of solitary confinement, with similar bills introduced in other state legislatures including New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island. With the President, the Pope and a U.S. Supreme Court justice all decrying solitary confinement, the tide is turning away from extreme isolation toward therapeutic interventions. For communities of faith who prioritize restorative justice, we believe an end to solitary confinement is a moral issue."
Members of the media are invited to attend the event and panelists will be available for interview.
Who: National Religious Campaign Against Torture and panelists - Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director, Prison Visiting Project at Correctional Association of NY; Mary Buser, Author of “Lockdown on Rikers”; Victor Pate, Organizer, New York Campaign For Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, Ede Fox as Master of Ceremonies, Social Justice Committee Member, Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph
What: “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard” Panel Discussion, followed by a public Q & A session
Where: St. Bart’s Church, 325 Park Avenue at 51st Street, New York, NY
When: Thursday, October 20, 2016 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm
American Friends Service Committee, Blessed Sacrament, Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), Cases.org, Centro Altagracia of Faith and Justice, Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Church of the Ascension, Church of the Assumption, Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Circles of Support, Correctional Association of New York, Crossroads Community, Grace and St. Paul’s Church, Harlem Renaissance High School, Harlem Think Tank, Holy Trinity Church, Incarcerated Nation, J.C. Flowers Foundation, John Jay College, Ladies of Hope Ministry, Legal Aid Society – Prison Visiting Program, National Action Network, Network Support Services, New York City Catholic Worker, NYC Mass Incarceration Committee – National Lawyers Guild, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Oratory Church of St. Boniface, Pax Christi, Peace and Justice Task Force, Unitarian Church of All Souls, Prison Watch Program, Providence House, Release Aging People In Prison, Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Social Justice Committee – Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement, Street Corner Resources, The Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice – Fordham University, The Fourth Universalist Society, The Prison Ministry of the Riverside Church of NY, West End Presbyterian Church
Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project (PVP), joined the Correctional Association of NY in January 2012. Scott pursues investigation, documentation, and advocacy aimed at improving conditions for individuals incarcerated in New York State. Scott also engages in coalition building, community outreach, and advocacy challenging particular abuses of the prison system, including solitary confinement, brutality, and the lack of adequate medical care and mental health services. Before joining the CA, Scott undertook different forms of refugee, immigration, and human rights advocacy both in the United States and abroad. He received his J.D. at Harvard Law School, his Master’s in Public Administration, and Bachelor’s in Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell University.
Mary E. Buser, author of Lockdown on Rikers (St. Martin’s Press, 1/29/15) was a clinical social worker in the Rikers Island Mental Health Department. She served as Assistant Chief of Mental Health in the island’s Mental Health Center, as well as the 500-cell Punitive Segregation Unit. Since leaving Rikers, she has been an outspoken advocate for the incarcerated, especially the mentally ill and those held in solitary confinement. Her Op-ed, “Solitary’s Mockery of Human Rights” was published in the The Washington Post (4/14). She has been a guest on the “Brian Lehrer Show,” and was featured in the New York Daily News. Excerpts from her book have appeared in Politico, Salon, and Vice.
Victor Pate, Organizer, New York Campaign For Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, did a three-month stint in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day during the late 1980s when he was imprisoned in Sing Sing. Pate, a Harlem resident, said the loss of human contact during that time drove him to it. “That short period of time I was isolated put me in a state of mind I’ve never been before,” he said. “I found myself hallucinating, sort of like I was in a surreal world.”
Pate and the other organizers of the New York Campaign, are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reform the practice in the state. The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) has a 4,000-member network that host rallies and creates other calls to action across the state.
The organizers also used virtual reality goggles to take passersby into a solitary 6-by-9 feet cell. The goggles displayed a gloomy room with a sliver of light coming into the cell from a tiny window, along with a twin-sized mattress, a toilet, sink and a makeshift desk.
“No one should be placed in a situation where they are cut off from human contact,” Pate said. “It creates a whole different person. I have never been, and will never be the same as a result of my experience in solitary.”
The HALT bill, Humane Alternatives to Long Term Solitary Confinement Act, proposes to reform the practice. The bill would shorten the time a person can be in solitary to 15 days. The entire United Nations General Assembly passed the Mandela Rules in 2015, which prohibited any time beyond 15 days, because it could amount to torture. It would also provide rehabilitation and counseling services.
Ede Fox, Social Justice Committee Member, Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, has had a long career in public service, currently working as the Director of the Economic and Community Development Division at the New York City Council for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Ms. Fox also served as chief of staff for Council Member Jumaane Williams, and prior to that Legislative and Budget director for Speaker Mark-Viverito. She has deep roots in civic life, running in a competitive race for City Council in 2013, as well as serving on Community Board 8 for ten years. Ms. Fox was born and raised in New York City. She attended Vassar College then graduated with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, an MA in Anthropology from UCLA and advanced to candidacy for her PhD in Anthropology at UCLA, including three years in the Netherlands conducting research for her Dissertation. She has been a member of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph’s for 4 years and lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 300 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.
NRCAT.org @NRCATtweets facebook.com/nrcat