New York Issues/Actions
The SWASC-TF contact person for New York is Sandra Bernabei. Please reach out to her with any questions, feedback or interest in New York issues and actions.
New York City Board of Correction Hearing on Proposed Rule Changes: Testimony by
Megan Crowe-Rothstein (Oct 2015)
My name is Megan Crowe-Rothstein and I am testifying today as a member of the Social Workers Against Prolonged Solitary Confinement Task Force. We are a national task force of social workers dedicated to confronting the issue of solitary confinement, both on a macro-level as a core mechanism of our racist and classist system of mass incarceration, and on a micro-level as a practice in which social workers in correctional settings actively and passively participate, even while they are simultaneously charged with upholding the human rights and dignity of all people.
Our objective is to provide social workers and other mental health professionals working in solitary confinement units with a safe platform from which to explore the practical and ethical conflicts of working in this setting. We are also committed to collaborating with national social work institutions to take a unified professional stand against the use of solitary confinement. The task force is made up of social work leaders from across the country, including social workers that have worked in prison and jail settings.
The practice of solitary confinement is inherently dehumanizing and in many cases constitutes torture, as documented by Juan Mendez, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As social workers, we have an ethical duty to help people in need, challenge social problems and injustice, and respect the dignity and worth of every individual. While public discourse increasingly acknowledges that solitary confinement is used too often and for too long, we as social workers must further question any use of a practice that constitutes torture and violates a person’s rights and dignity.
Thus, we are concerned about the proposed changes to minimum standards for solitary confinement. The New York City Board of Correction and the Department of Correction have made important strides towards these standards, especially in removing 16 and 17 year–old individuals from solitary and establishing a maximum of 30 days that a person can be in solitary. The proposed rule changes would be a step backwards rather than forwards.
We also oppose the proposed rule changes to packages and visits. As solitary confinement exemplifies, isolating human beings from others does not lead to rehabilitation and instead can be harmful to that individual. Staying connected to one’s family and friends on the outside often gives people hope and supports them in their return to their community. The proposed rules are far too broad in giving the Department of Correction the ability to limit who can visit a person who is incarcerated. Similarly, the requirement of sending packages through predetermined vendors places an unnecessary and unfair financial burden on the families of people who are incarcerated. These proposed rules misguidedly and unfairly punish family and community members. Any reform should support, rather than restrict, the communication and connections people have while incarcerated to their loved ones on the outside.
As social workers, we call for the humane treatment of all people who are incarcerated and an end to practices that unfairly target communities that are poor and of color. We ask that the Board consider reducing violence through treatment, enhanced programming, and increased community connections rather than separation and isolation.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today.