Christian Hill has been recognized with borderline persona dysfunction and main depressive dysfunction. Within the New York State jail system, this classifies him as having a severe psychological sickness and confers a “1-S” designation upon him.
Below the newly applied HALT Solitary Confinement Act, folks with this psychological well being designation can’t be punished by being positioned within the Particular Housing Unit, or SHU, the place they might spend a minimum of 17 days alone of their cells. As a substitute, Hill and others with this designation should be despatched to a Residential Psychological Well being Unit, a jail unit for incarcerated folks with severe psychological well being wants. Collectively operated by the state’s jail company and its workplace of psychological well being, these models are speculated to be therapeutic slightly than punitive.
However regardless of its therapeutic intention, Hill nonetheless spends 20 hours in his cell on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. For one hour every day, a door in the back of his cell is opened remotely, permitting him to enter a fenced-off pen adjoining his cell for recreation. “I do a whole lot of sleeping out of boredom,” Hill wrote in a letter from his Residential Psychological Well being Unit to Truthout.
Hill says he’s being punished due to his psychological well being wants. In response to a brand new report, he’s considered one of a whole bunch who’re punished regardless of the state’s legal guidelines designed to guard them.
Residential Psychological Well being Models Seem No Higher Than Solitary
In April 2022, Hill spent 4 days within the Intermediate Care Program, a nonpunitive residential psychological well being remedy unit at Sullivan Correctional Facility. On the fourth day, he was feeling suicidal and requested officers to contact psychological well being employees in order that he may very well be positioned on suicide watch.
This was not the primary time that Hill had expressed suicidal ideation throughout his 10 years in jail. “This was considered one of over 300 instances I’ve been in want of or positioned on suicide watch,” he wrote, including that two of his suicide makes an attempt had almost succeeded. Due to this historical past, his requests to be positioned on suicide watch are often taken severely.
This time, nevertheless, Hill mentioned that officers informed him, “Go fuck your self.”
Hill repeatedly requested psychological well being employees, however mentioned that officers continued to disregard his requests, ultimately telling him to kill himself. Solely after Hill threw water out of his cell was he taken to suicide watch, the place he was stripped of all his clothes and belongings and positioned underneath 24-hour statement for 4 days.
After these 4 days, employees charged him with a number of rule violations: assault on employees, violent conduct, partaking in an unhygienic act, threats, creating disturbance and interference with an worker. He was sentenced to 180 days within the SHU. However due to his psychological well being classification, he’s serving his SHU sentence in a Residential Psychological Well being Unit as a substitute, which affords a number of hours of programming, together with 20 hours of group remedy every week, particular person counseling as soon as each 30 days, and a medicine evaluation each 90 days.
Jail officers additionally punished him with 180 days’ lack of entry to commissary, packages and cellphone calls. Which means, throughout his time within the Residential Psychological Well being Unit, he can’t order gadgets from the jail’s commissary (the jail retailer), obtain packages from family members, or use the cellphone.
Simply earlier than he was transferred from Sullivan to the Residential Psychological Well being Unit at Marcy Correctional Facility, he says he was assaulted throughout the pre-transfer strip search. When he arrived at Marcy, he was positioned within the Residential Psychological Well being Unit there and charged, individually, with an extra six rule violations, together with assault on employees, violent conduct, threats, making a disturbance and interfering with an worker.
He was sentenced to an extra one year in isolation on these expenses and an extra one year’ lack of commissary, packages, cellphone calls and pill use, which might have allowed him to make the most of the jail’s e-messaging system to speak with family members and advocates. For the subsequent 545 days, he can solely talk by writing letters.
In 2008, 4 years earlier than Hill entered jail, New York handed the SHU Exclusion Legislation, limiting solitary for folks with severe psychological sickness. Below the Act, individuals who have been recognized with severe psychological sickness, resembling schizophrenia, main depressive dysfunction, bipolar dysfunction and/or lively suicidality, can solely be positioned within the SHU for as much as 30 days if they’ve damaged a jail rule.
After these 30 days, jail officers should divert them to a Residential Psychological Well being Unit. In these models, separate from the remainder of the jail inhabitants, folks should obtain 4 hours of structured therapeutic programming and psychological well being remedy 5 days every week, and disciplinary sanctions for acts resembling refusing remedy and self-harm are prohibited. The 2008 legislation additionally prohibited punishing folks in these models with extra isolation besides if their conduct “poses a big and unreasonable threat to the security of [incarcerated persons] or employees, or to the safety of the ability.”
However, in line with a brand new report by the HALT Solitary and the Psychological Well being Options to Solitary Confinement campaigns, isolating folks as punishment occurs pretty often. Residential Psychological Well being Models “basically have failed to offer an efficient and humane therapeutic setting for a big share of its residents,” expenses the report, entitled “Punishment of Folks with Severe Psychological Sickness in New York State Prisons.”
Reviewing knowledge from January 2017 by means of Might 2019, the report concludes that New York’s state jail system and its Workplace of Psychological Well being haven’t been following the legislation’s limits on punishment.
“Though these models are speculated to be therapeutic, they’re often punitive,” mentioned Jennifer Parish, who’s director of prison justice advocacy on the City Justice Middle and a founding member of the Psychological Well being Options to Solitary Confinement marketing campaign. She famous that she has heard frequent complaints from individuals who have cycled by means of the SHU and varied Residential Psychological Well being Models and plenty of, she mentioned, “felt they had been handled worse than folks within the SHU. This isn’t how that is speculated to work.”
Hill agrees. He notes that, underneath the HALT Solitary Act, if he had been in typical solitary confinement (i.e., the SHU), he could be allowed his private property, together with his radio, fan, calculator, lamp, scorching pot for cooking and prison-issued pill on which he can ship e-messages to relations. However within the Residential Psychological Well being Unit, he has none of those to assist him cross the hours that he spends alone inside his cell.
Including A whole bunch of Days in Isolation
Within the 1974 case Wolf v. McDonnell, america Supreme Courtroom dominated that folks in jail have the proper to due course of underneath the 14th Modification — even for hearings involving inside jail guidelines violations. That very same proper applies to these within the Residential Psychological Well being Models, however in line with the report, 94 % of the 1,925 disciplinary hearings held between 2017 and mid-2019 resulted in responsible findings — and the overwhelming majority of individuals had been punished with extra time in isolation. The report additionally discovered that probably the most frequent sanction was for disobeying a direct order (15.2 %), adopted by making a disturbance (12 %) and interfering with employees (10 %).
Each expenses are obscure and may embody behaviors resembling shouting or yelling, famous Tyrell Muhammad, a senior advocate on the Correctional Affiliation of New York, a nonprofit that screens New York’s prisons. The costs also can embody actions resembling watching employees extract a cellmate regardless of orders to face the wall, or yelling for workers when somebody makes an attempt suicide, defined Muhammad, who spent 27 years in New York State prisons, together with seven within the SHU.
“The above are precise incidents that I’ve skilled and was given disciplinary tickets and a Tier III for,” he mentioned, referring to the highest-level infraction for jail rule violations that carries probably the most extreme penalties. “Many would consider that if one is charged with a lot of these infractions that [it] is severe to the purpose the place violence was used, [but that] may be very uncommon. These infractions are a type of retaliation. It is actually because somebody witness[ed] one thing and these disciplinary tickets are a method of intimidation.” He and different advocates have famous that employees make the choice on what actions represent making a disturbance or interfering with employees.
In distinction, the report discovered that fewer than 4 % of individuals in Residential Psychological Well being Models had been charged with assault on employees, and fewer than 1 % had been charged with assault on one other incarcerated particular person.
Regardless of the shortage of severity of the costs, a whole bunch have been punished with extra isolation. In response to the report, of the 399 folks in a Residential Psychological Well being Unit throughout that point, 99 % had been punished with solitary confinement. Eight-five % had been sentenced to 6 months or extra of extra isolation time. Their whole period of time in isolation got here out to greater than 823 years with a median of 753 days (or greater than two years) for every particular person.
Along with the punitive nature of being confined to their cells for 20 to 24 hours every day, most individuals in these models are handcuffed when they’re escorted to remedy and counseling and, as soon as at their vacation spot, shackled to the ground with leg irons. If they continue to be freed from misbehavior reviews or infractions often called “adverse informational reviews” for 120 days, they’re allowed to depart their cells with out handcuffs and attend applications with out being shackled. They’re additionally moved to a cell with a tv mounted on the wall, permitting them to observe TV to interrupt up the monotony. However, Hill says, employees members on the Residential Psychological Well being Unit often write adverse informational reviews, which don’t require a listening to or enable an incarcerated particular person to defend themselves towards allegations of adverse habits. As a substitute, they need to start their 120 days once more.
The report additionally expenses that folks in these models — who’re primarily Black and Latinx folks with severe psychological well being wants — have been punished at a lot increased charges than others within the jail system and often due to habits attributable to their underlying psychological well being circumstances.
Over 80 % within the Residential Psychological Well being Models had been Black and/or Latinx. Black and Latinx folks make up 72 % of these incarcerated in New York State prisons and 37 % within the state at massive.
In distinction, white folks, resembling Hill, comprised 14.5 % of individuals in Residential Psychological Well being Models in comparison with 24 % in all New York prisons and almost 62 % of the state at massive. In addition they made up almost 26 % of individuals within the Intermediate Care Program, the nonpunitive psychological well being unit (or, because the report notes, 77 % increased than white folks within the extra punitive Residential Psychological Well being Models.)
Jack Beck, the report’s creator and a member of the HALT Solitary marketing campaign, famous that folks despatched to the nonpunitive Intermediate Care Program and to the Residential Psychological Well being Unit have the identical severe psychological well being classifications. “There’s great racial bias within the disciplinary system — and in the entire [Department of Corrections],” he mentioned.
Punitive Residential Reentry Models
In 2021, 13 years after the passage of the SHU Exclusion Act, New York’s legislature handed the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, limiting solitary confinement to not more than 15 consecutive days (or 20 days inside a 60-day time interval).
The legislation went into impact on March 31, 2022. It required the creation of Residential Reentry Models the place folks sentenced to greater than 15 days in SHU will likely be transferred on Day 16. In response to the Division of Corrections and Neighborhood Providers, these models too are supposed to “be therapeutic and trauma-informed and purpose to handle particular person remedy, rehabilitation wants, and underlying causes of problematic habits.”
Individuals who have severe psychological diseases will not be positioned in SHU in any respect and, like Hill, are despatched on to a Residential Psychological Well being Unit, the place they nonetheless spend a minimum of 20 hours every day alone of their cells.
Now, Parish, Beck, and different advocates are involved that these new Residential Reentry Models will replicate the issue of alternate options which are nonetheless punitive slightly than therapeutic. “It is a cautionary message,” Beck mentioned of the report and its findings. “Should you’re going to have folks in these remedy models however you’re going to continually self-discipline them, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t change habits. It’s completely ineffective.”
The Division of Corrections and Neighborhood Supervision didn’t reply to Truthout’s queries about these models or its coverage concerning suicidal ideation.
The report concludes that the continued punitive method to imprisoned folks with psychological well being wants, even in models designated for these extra susceptible populations, “point out that jail will not be an acceptable setting for folks with psychological well being wants.”
Its first suggestion exhorts the state to cease incarcerating folks with psychological well being wants. As a substitute, it urges legislators and coverage makers to develop and improve community-based psychological well being care, diversion applications, disaster response, and alternate options to incarceration.
“Jails and prisons can’t present efficient remedy,” Beck informed Truthout.