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Individuals sentenced to prison enter a strictly regimented environment where they must conform to an elaborate set of rules, which govern every aspect of prisoner behavior. Particular rules operate as a disciplinary catch-all. For example, Rule 106.10 states: “An inmate shall obey all orders of department personnel promptly without argument.” Thus, even a momentary lapse in obedience can bring harsh consequences: Kevin was sentenced to 30 days of keeplock after continuing a conversation with another prisoner after a corrections officer ordered him to stop.
Read the record for Kevin’s infraction of Rule 106.10
Prisoners’ experiences suggest the regularity with which DOCCS uses extreme isolation to punish non-violent misbehavior. As these disciplinary records demonstrate, Chris received three months in the Box after a corrections officer discovered gambling chips and a list of prisoners who owed him chewing tobacco (“top”) in his possession.
DOCCS penalty guidelines specifically contemplate punishing prisoners with extreme isolation for alcohol and drug-related infractions – up to three months for a first offense, three to six months for a second offense, and six to 12 months for a third offense. Corrections officials may, however, impose longer sentences at their discretion. Chris received four-and-a-half months in the Box for his first drug infraction after testing positive for marijuana.
As the guidelines recommend, prisoners found guilty of multiple drug infractions often receive increasingly longer SHU sentences. Chris received a year in the Box for his most recent drug infraction, also for testing positive for marijuana.
The substantial discretion afforded corrections officials in crafting extreme isolation sentences is exemplified by several instances the NYCLU uncovered where prisoners received widely disparate sentences to the box, even when the underlying circumstances were substantively similar. Kevin and Miguel, neither of whom had prior misbehavior reports, were each involved in a fistfight at their respective prisons. Kevin received a six-month extreme isolation sentence; Miguel received a one-month keeplock sentence.
While DOCCS is quick to impose extreme isolation in response to misbehavior in the general prison population, additional punishment for misbehavior once a prisoner is in the Box is even more swift and severe. Prisoners in extreme isolation can earn additional disciplinary sentences that keep them in the Box far beyond their initial sentence. DOCCS places no upper limit on the ultimate length of time that a prisoner may spend in extreme isolation.
Samuel has received an additional two-and-a-half years of time in the Box since he arrived at Upstate, all for non-violent misbehavior. For refusing to return his food tray to a corrections officer, Samuel received six months in extreme isolation. For refusing to submit to a urinalysis test, he received an additional six months in extreme isolation.
Confronted with long-term isolation and idleness, some prisoners succumb to depression and commit acts of self-mutilation or self-injury, which constitute a violation of prison rules. Rule 123.10 dictates that “An inmate shall not inflict or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon his or her person.” Prisoners who harm themselves in extreme isolation – likely due to the mental anguish caused by such conditions – may find themselves punished with additional time in the Box. Daniel, who at 52 has spent more than two decades in and out of extreme isolation, has a long history of self-mutilation. Daniel has received 15 misbehavior reports for self-harm; this misbehavior report resulted in a four-month extreme isolation sentence.
DOCCS authorizes the deprivation of nourishing, edible food as a form of punishment. Prisoners in the Box accused of certain misbehavior may be immediately placed on a “restricted diet” for up to seven days prior to the disciplinary hearing, which determines their guilt or innocence. The “restricted diet,” commonly known as “the loaf,” is a brick of bread-and-vegetable matter, which comes with a wedge of raw cabbage and water. For refusing to return a Styrofoam bowl, Tevin was placed on the loaf for seven days prior to his disciplinary hearing. In Tevin’s words: “I refused to give it up, so I could have a cup to eat my oatmeal out of or my cold cereal, or drink water out of.” At the hearing, Tevin received an additional two days of the loaf – and two months of additional time in the Box.
DOCCS policy officially sanctions the denial of basic necessities. DOCCS regulations permit “deprivation orders” stripping prisoners in the Box of any “specific item, privilege, or service … when it is determined that a threat to the safety or security of staff, inmates, or State property exists.” No “item, privilege, or service” is exempt from a deprivation order, including “minimum standard items,” such as showers, recreation, clothing, bedding and paper (including toilet paper). These deprivation orders illustrate instances where corrections officials deprived individuals of such basic necessities.
Clothing, Linen and Meal Deprivations
Consistent with DOCCS’ overall disciplinary philosophy, which permits corrections officials to punish a wide range of offenses with extreme isolation, DOCCS grants corrections officials comparably wide discretion to impose deprivation orders. These deprivation orders illustrate how corrections officials justified the continued deprivation of exercise, shower and haircuts because the prisoner exhibited a “poor demeanor” or “poor attitude” towards staff.
Deprivation orders must be reviewed daily and renewed every day after seven days. (DOCCS regulations do not cap the total amount of time such orders may ultimately span.) This deprivation order reveals instances where DOCCS failed to conduct the daily review in violation of its own internal regulations.
Absence of Daily Review
At Southport Correctional Facility, where prisoners are escorted from their cells for shower and recreation, deprivation orders stripping prisoners of these privileges are not uncommon. This deprivation order reveals that an individual was deprived of exercise for 29 consecutive days and showers for 12 consecutive days. His offense? He allegedly spat at a corrections officer.
Deprivation of Exercise
Roughly half the men in extreme isolation share a cell with another prisoner, their “bunkie.” The unrelenting lack of privacy is the primary cause of tension among double-celled prisoners, particularly while showering or using the toilet. No curtain or barrier separates the shower or the toilet from the rest of the cell, forcing prisoners to expose themselves to their cellmates. In order to redress the lack of privacy, many prisoners use bed sheets to erect a curtain in front of the shower and between the toilet and bunk beds. But creating a makeshift “privacy curtain” violates several prison rules and may result in the deprivation of sheets as punishment.
Records Produced under the Freedom of Information Law
Disciplinary Incidents by Charge 2007-2011
Disciplinary Incidents by Charge and Facility 2007-2011
Disciplinary Incidents by Charge and Tier 2007-2011
Disciplinary Segregation – Average Sentence by Year and Facility 2007-2011
Disciplinary Segregation – Length of Sentence by Days – 2007-2011
Disciplinary Segregation — Length of Sentences by Year and Facility 2007-2011
Tier III Hearings by Categories of Rule Infractions 2007-2011
Tier III Hearings Resulting in SHU Sentences by Categories of Rule Infractions 2007-2011
Tier III Guilty Charges by Rule Infraction 2007 to 2011 (00024334) Posted Dec. 4, 2012
Tier III Guilty Charges Resulting in a SHU Sanction by Rule Infraction 2007 to 2011 (00024335) Posted Dec. 4, 2012