Solitary Confinement - for Training Use
- New York 01/26/2012 by Linda Perry (WBAI News)

What follows are two scripts of stories on solitary confinement in New York State prisons.

These serve as script sample for interns and volunteers interested in doing news for WBAI.

Part One Script:

Intro: The ACLU’s National Prison Project

along with the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Civil Rights

held a conference at the Hilton Hotel in New York City,

examining the increased use of solitary confinement in New York State prisons.

The conference looked at the effects of solitary on inmates.

Script: On any given day 2.3 million people are behind bars in the United States.

80,000 in Solitary Confinement. Brian Fisher is Commissioner of New York State's Department of Corrections, and Warden of Sing Sing Prison: Addressing a roomful of lawyers, he justifies putting prisoners in Solitary.

Prison Commissioner Brian Clip: On Monday, an individual violates the rules of society and assaults somebody…On Tuesday the public, the courts the prosecutor, the defense attorneys – we all do our thing,  and on Tuesday he’s in prison. Why because he violated a community rule. He becomes a threat to the community, therefore we put him in prison. No one has a problem with that.

On Wednesday in prison he picks up a chair and beats somebody badly. What do you want me to do with him? If it was ok on Monday or Tuesday for society to lock him up because he was a danger to community, why is it wrong for me on Wednesday to do the same thing inside the prison…that’s my nightmare every night.

Script:  David Fahti is The Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. He says everyone who knows about prisons agrees that some prisoners are dangerous and need tho be physically separated from others so they don't hurt of kill them.

Prison Commissioner Clip: The real question is whether prison security requires solitary confinement the way it is used in the United States today in terms of the frequency of its use, its duration and the degree of social isolation ad environmental deprivation, often quite extreme, that it entails. And another question is whether solitary confinement is helpful or counter productive.  To prison safety and to public safety

Clip Coleman: One of the biggest fears in prison is for each prisoner is that they will die in prison. That fear is ten times worse in Shu because you don’t know what can happen from day to day.  

Script:  jay Coleman  lived in Solitary Confinement. In Shu, Special Housing Units, another name for Solitary Confinement.  

He spent a total of 25 years in the New York State penal system in 15 prisons. He says Shu is bad.

Clip Coleman: it deprives us of our humanity and a lot of times it deprives some guys of their own personal integrity that they never get back.

Script:  Inmates are in Solitary Confinement 22 to 24 hours a day… for months, years, some for decades.  Psychologically, this is often devastating.

Clip: this notion that we’re being cruel to people, but it’s the only way to control their behavior is utter nonsense.

Script: Dr. Stuart Grassian, one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of Solitary Confinement on prisoners. He was on the teaching staff of Harvard’s medical school for over 30 years. He says people who end up in solitary are basically those who lack impulse control.

Clip: You take a person whose impulse disordered to start with emotionally volatile and you put him in a situation where he’s frightened and there’s an inadequate level of external stimulation to keep him going and you’re going to end up with a much more violent individual.

Script: And Solitary Confinement often results in a vicious cycle. Inmates go into the box,, then to a prison mental health facility then back to solitary.  

Jay Coleman Clip: When they’re removed they get better often they get removed and brought to a psychiatric hospital …and then they’re brought right back to the SHU then it repeats.

In one case NYS case 21 episodes of the revolving door betwn shu most toxic confinement …each tme ….it isn’t just people with serious mental issues :

Script : New York State Prison Commisioner - Brian Fisher wonders if correction officials are placing the right person in special housing.

Clip Fisher: And are we keeping the right person for the right amount of time…I’ll be the first to admit we over use it we overuse it because it’s a management tool

Script: Jay Coleman sees one easy alternative. He says stop sending people to Solitary for minor offenses.

Clip:  If I'm using a drug to hurt myself I'm not doing anything when I'm on that drug, why you putting me in a situation reserved for violent inmates or inmates who can not get along the Shu, Why am I there?

Script: And this is a question Inmate Advocates, Legislators, Attorneys, Correction Department Officials and members of the Medical Profession are studying. Some good news is that the use of Solitary Confinement is beginning to wane across the United States.

Linda Perry, WBAI News   

Time: 5:05


Script Two

Intro: The ACLU’s National

Prison Project and the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Civil

Rights held a conference in New York City. They examined whether Solitary

Confinement is necessary to the management of prisoners or a violation of

civil rights. Here’ s part two of Linda Perry’s Report.


Script: There’s agreement that Solitary Confinement is overused throughout the prison system.  It went from being a short term punishment to a long term solution for managing tens of thousands of prisoners in the United States.

This is partly because Politicians pushed for Super Max, Super Maximum Security Prisons, to be built in their states.  They were designed to house dangerous, violent offenders in Solitary. This was in the 1980’s to 1990’s -- coinciding with when the prison population Grew. soared

Jamie Fellner, Senior Advisor at Human Rights Watch quoted someone saying- Super Max prisons are Solitarys on Steroids...Poisoned mushrooms across the nations landscape.

J5Clip:  Keeping someone locked in Super Max

prisons for years cannot be seen as consistent w/human dignity bec it’s

treating them as no more than an animal

Much less as promoting rehabilitation 17:27 except by a very twisted notion of rehabilitation a notion that would say well I’m whipping you so you’ll behave better and when I stop whipping you  see I’ve rehabilitated you..that doesn’t work for physical force and it doesn’t work for the kind of psychological cruelty that takes place in a Super Max.

2Script; Unlike the 1990’s, the prison population is now declining. And Along with violent offenders, Prison officials are filling SuperMax prisons with inmates who committed lesser offenses and don’t belong there. It has become a numbers game. Jaime Fellner says prison officals had to dumb down, lessen the criteria..

J2 Clip: otherwise they couldn’t fill these prisons. And some states ended up closing them or changing their purposes entirely. There just aren’t enough prisoners who are so

dangerous, so difficult, so uncontrollable, so violentand not mentally ill that they have to be kept under these very harsh conditions

3Script: Jay Coleman who spent 25 years in New York State

prisons, smoked a joint when he found out his wife had cancer. He was sent to

Solitary Confinement, also known as SHU, Special Housing Unit. He says his wife

went crazy and called every official she could.

Jay Clip: She argues with them and a dept commisssioner told her, we get federal money and we had to fill upstate to justify the federal money we get. When I heard this I said, wow. How far are they going with the politics... We are paying our price by being in prison. Do you have tosubject me to a double punishment. It wasn’t so far against your rules that I needed to be in SHU. 


The question becomes, You all believe we overuse shu and we should do some

treatments and some alternatives and I agree

4Script; Brian Fisher, Commissioner of New York State’s Department of Correction says to change the way Solitary is used he needs empirical evidence is needed, and somebody has to tell him - what is the best alternative


…somebody has to tell us what is your best alternative you have to modify it

you’re always going to have prisons and you’re always going to have isolation

you have thewhat is the form of isolation what is the form of  question is

 …how do you prove if we don’t send guys with drug I pblms we don’t have

assaults what is it we can do and how prove and disprove… we do lock people up

23 hours a day and what will work…someone has to tell us how to move

forward…you have to modfy  you’re always going to have prison the question

is what form of isolation do you want to support.

5Script: Queens Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey is Chair of the Committee on Corrections. He spearheaded the Shu Exclusion Law, which limits the Correction Department’s ability to put people with serious mental illness into SHU. He says shus are not good for anyone. The more you limit them, the better off the population’s going to be.

(Aubrey Amb)

AubSol2 Clip: The Commissioner challenges us to say what’s better

We know there better ways andit’s getting him to confront the culture.. and its always a battle the cultureof corrections has been for years punishment is what we do. Security is our highest priority, so you have to force them out of that and make them more

comfortable with other models

But here’s a problem Correction employs 29,000 people. They employ more people in the state than any other state agency and so how do you change that culture? That’s the real


6Script: David Fahti is Director of the ACLU’s

National Prison Projet which brought lawsuits challenging the use of Solitary

Confinement. He says sometimes all you need is common sense to differentiate

those that need to be in Solitary from those who don’t.

Fahti Clip: In Wisconsin for example,

We found that one of the prisoners was a 16 yr old car thief. No reason for that

young man to be in a supermax prison. To do a more comprehensive, you need an


one of the most basic tasks

prisons are supposed to do is classify prisoners according to their risk of

escape, their risk of assaultive behavior in prison and assign them to housing

accordingly and what we find over and over again is that prisoners are way over

classified and that’s one of the phenomena that results in the filling of these

supermax facilities…

7Script: And David Fahti says, bringing in

classification experts, the would reduce the number of inmates in Solitary without

negatively effecting prisons or public safety.

The Conference on Solitary Confinement ran like

clockwork, a good meeting of minds. One audience member, a lawyer I talked to,

said she was thrilled to meet the panel. What they all need now she said

was....use her quote.

Linda Perry, WBAI News, New York  6:29