(New York, NY) – People who have lost loved ones to solitary confinement, people who survived solitary, and allies held a vigil outside New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s apartment, Friday, December 10th. Participants lifted up those killed by solitary and urged the Speaker to bring legislation to end solitary confinement to a vote that has 35 sponsors – veto-proof supermajority support.
“My baby sister died in solitary confinement because of her gender identity,” Melania Brown, activist and sister of the late Layleen Polanco, shared. “She should have been here today. The Mayor made a promise to end solitary confinement and used my sister’s name. But all they did is change the name. They are still torturing people. It is draining to come out here and pour my heart out. Now, we are asking our Speaker to step up to actually end this torture. I have to spend the holidays without my baby sister. It is not ok. Speaker Johnson you have the power to end this, and you must call a vote.”
Victor Pate, #HALTsolitary Campaign organizer and survivor of solitary said: “I still feel the effects of solitary confinement. Solitary is an experience no human being should have to endure. There is veto-proof supermajority support for legislation to end solitary. Speaker Corey Johnson needs to call a vote now.”
“Solitary confinement does nothing but torture people and their families and loved ones,” Candie, Jails Action Coalition member and survivor of solitary, shared. “I spent 1,168 days on Rikers Island, and 1,122 of those days in solitary confinement. I went into solitary confinement without any mental health issues and came out with many challenges. I had no idea that they did this to women until I was in solitary. Speaker Johnson, you must call a vote now to end solitary confinement once and for all.”
Background: On Friday, December 10th, 28-year-old Malcolm Boatwright died after being locked in Rikers Island, the 15th person to die this year in city jails – not all from solitary confinement but all from jail conditions that fail to provide for the basic human rights of incarcerated people. There is currently legislation to end solitary pending in the City Council with 35 sponsors, veto-proof supermajority support. Speaker Johnson has been a strong advocate for ending solitary confinement, and has previously supported automatic votes on bills with 34 co-sponsors. Despite the well-known and deadly harms of solitary, as well as the clear safety benefits of alternatives, and while the Mayor promised to end solitary confinement and even claimed the City was going to end solitary, the City Department of Correction continues to use solitary by various other names, and the Mayor continues to extend orders allowing the Department to lock anyone in solitary for any reason for any length of time. The City jails are in a deadly crisis. Solitary confinement is not a solution to that crisis, is deadly itself, and in fact has fueled the current crisis and directly led to multiple deaths this year.
During the crisis, in addition to the continued use of punitive segregation and structurally restrictive housing, people – predominantly Black and Latinx people and other people of color – have been thrown into solitary, sometimes even in showers amidst their own feces or in suicide watch units and left locked alone without staff checking on them for hours or days or beyond. As one of the most tragic examples, in August 25-year-old Brandon Rodriguez died after being locked in solitary confinement in a shower and left to die there. Other New Yorkers this year have also died after being locked alone in various cells. Long before the current crisis, solitary confinement has taken the lives of countless people in New York City’s jails, including Layleen Polanco, Kalief Browder, Andy Henriquez, Bradley Ballard, Jason Echeverria, Carina Montes, and others.