Keri Blakinger’s IV League
The blog behind the memoir http://keriblakinger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/taking-action-against-solitary-nyclu-lawsuit/ Thank You, Keri B.
Taking Action Against Solitary: NYCLU Lawsuit
Earlier this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union — New York’s branch of the ACLU — filed for class-action status in a suit challenging the arbitrary use of solitary confinement in New York state prisons. The suit started as Peoples v. Fischer, a suit filed on behalf of a man who spent 780 days in solitary as a result of non-violent misbehavior involving the possession of legal paperwork he was not authorized to have. Prior to the 780-day SHU stay that prompted his lawsuit, Leroy Peoples had also served a 6-month sentence in solitary for unauthorized possession of multi-vitamins available for prisoner purchase at the commissary.
According to an article in The Nation, on any given day, approximately 4,500 people – about 8 percent of the entire New York State prison population – are locked down for 23 hours a day in isolation cells. Thus, not surprisingly, other names were eventually added to suit as it sought class-action status. Among the plaintiffs added to the suit was one Tonja Fenton, an inmate at Bedford Hill Correctional Facility in Westchester County who has spent 270 days in solitary confinement. Fenton, a Queens native, was sentenced to 1.5 – 3 years for a non-violent crime
According to the NYCLU:
Fenton was given three separate sentences to solitary confinement, all for non-violent conduct. The first sentence, of 365 days, was for allegedly helping another prisoner purchase a hair dryer, curling iron and a pair of sneakers. The second sentence was for reporting a sexual assault that DOCCS deemed unsubstantiated, and the third sentence was for sending court personnel a sample of the food she is served in solitary as evidence in a lawsuit she had filed on her own behalf challenging conditions in solitary.
As a result of her SHU sentence, Fenton, spends 23 hours a day alone in a small cell. She can’t use the phone and isn’t even allowed to have any of the personal belongings that other inmates can. She can’t order food from the prison commissary. She’s only allowed visits once a week. All day, she listens to the screams of other SHU inmates slowly and loudly going crazy. Worst of all, she has lost her chance to earn “good time” and has to serve the entirety of her three-year sentence.
What stood out to me about this story is the fact that I know this girl. I was in 121A — the unit for newbies — with her in 2011. She was nice, laid-back, and surprisingly generous with strangers. Essentially, it’s those positive traits that ended up landing her in SHU.
NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass observed, “Ms. Fenton’s case typifies the state’s all-too-common arbitrary and unjustified use of solitary confinement as punishment.” He added, “Her sentence to solitary reveals not only the inhumanity and unconstitutionality of the practice in New York’s prisons, but also just how costly and counterproductive these policies are for everyone.”
Donna Lieberman, the NYCLU’s executive director added: “Prison officials’ arbitrary and inhumane use of extreme isolation for such extraordinarily long amounts of time inflicts excruciating suffering on thousands of individuals each year and makes our prisons and communities less safe. If they refuse to end this practice, we are confident that the courts will require them to do so.”
If you want to help defend against this and other civil liberties violations, click here to join the NYCLU, “Because freedom can’t protect itself.”