MENTAL HEALTH ALTERNATIVES TO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT (MHASC)
MHASC is a coalition of more than sixty organizations and hundreds of
concerned citizens, advocates, mental health and criminal justice
professionals, formerly incarcerated people and their family members,
working to end the cruel practice of placing people with psychiatric
disabilities in solitary confinement.
Imprisoned people in solitary confinement (known also as disciplinary
confinement, Special Housing Units (SHU), and Keeplock) spend
twenty-three to twenty-four hours a day in barren concrete cells.
Many of these individuals have mental health needs. Despite
experiencing the ravages of psychiatric symptoms, such vulnerable
prisoners are subjected to sensory deprivation, social isolation, and
enforced idleness – conditions that are extremely harmful to anyone’s
mental health but devastating, and even life threatening, for people
with psychiatric disabilities.
MHASC successfully advocated for the enactment of the SHU Exclusion
Law, which restricts the placement of prisoners with serious mental
illness in disciplinary confinement. Although the law was enacted in
2008, it did not take effect until July 1, 2011. To learn more about
the SHU Exclusion Law,
our Fact Sheet.
The Mental Health Project coordinates MHASC’s advocacy efforts to
ensure that the law is fully implemented and results in meaningful
reform. Through legislative advocacy, we work to preserve and expand
upon the law. We meet regularly with the NYS Commission on Quality of
Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, which, as a result of
the SHU Exclusion Law, is responsible for oversight of prison mental
health care. In addition, MHASC developed a family committee to
improve the prison mental health system’s response to family members
of imprisoned people with psychiatric disabilities. We also give
presentations on the plight of people with mental illness in prison
and on the SHU Exclusion Law.
To get involved in MHASC or schedule a presentation, contact Jennifer (jj) Parish at 646-602-5644.
NEW YORK CITY JAILS ACTION COALITION (JAC)
JAC is a collection of activists, including formerly incarcerated
people, family members, and other community members, working to
promote human rights, dignity, and safety for people in New York City
jails. Its current advocacy projects aim to curtail New York City's
use of solitary confinement as a jail punishment, stop staff
brutality, and improve the quality and availability of medical and
mental health care.
Even as a growing international consensus has deplored the use of
solitary confinement in jails and prisons, New York City has expanded
it. By the end of fiscal year 2013, solitary confinement beds will
represent nearly ten percent of the average daily population in New
York City jails. Solitary confinement, or what the city calls
"punitive segregation," entails 22 to 24 hours of daily lockdown with
limited social interaction. It causes, among other things, cognitive
disturbances, perceptual distortions, paranoia, psychosis, and
self-harm. Juveniles and people with preexisting mental illness remain
the most vulnerable to the ravages of "the bing," yet New York City
subjects ever more of them to solitary confinement.
Staff brutality on Rikers Island has continued unabated for decades
despite scores of lawsuits against correction officers. Members of
the highest echelon of the Department of Correction have been
identified again and again as perpetrators of gruesome violence
against incarcerated people. Such assaults have left its victims
without their eyesight, with broken spines and faces, punctured lungs,
lacerated skulls, and other serious injuries.
JAC aims to end the culture of brutality in New York City jails by
influencing necessary changes in the culture of the Department of
Correction. New York City must treat the people it incarcerates as
people, not as problems.
Crucial to reforming the culture on Rikers Island is increasing the
quality and availability of medical and mental health care and
rehabilitative programs. By treating symptoms of mental illness and
physical disease, rather than punishing them, New York City can help
its incarcerated people to heal. And by engaging incarcerated people
with programs, the city can help them to succeed when they return to
Several Mental Health Project staffers are core members of JAC,
dedicated to utilizing our expertise to oppose conditions that are
detrimental to incarcerated people's mental well-being.
To learn more about JAC, contact Dilcio Acosta at 646-602-5666 or visit JAC’s website