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Note: The following is a republished press release from a community organization or member and NOT written by the Ithaca Voice … to submit community announcements to The Voice, contact us at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com.

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If you’ve seen Orange is the New Black, now’s the time to put your knowledge about prison to the test. Hint: you are most likely more than a bit misinformed.

Leaders of the New York State Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) are making the trek upstate early next week to gain momentum in their fight against prison abuses.

On Tuesday, March 8th, frontrunners for the campaign will lead a short presentation and workshop in two Ithaca locations. At Cornell, CAIC will present at Willard Straight Hall’s Memorial Room at 12:15 pm; and at 6:00 pm they will be downtown at the Tompkins County Public Library’s Borg Warner Room.

Both appearances will feature a short film, background about solitary and related NYS legislation, and information about how to get involved with their ongoing efforts. Both events are free and open to the public.

Solitary confinement – also known as the SHU (special housing unit), the box, or the hole; is where inmates in prisons or jails are sent for alleged behavioral misconduct. In solitary, an individual is locked in a cell for 23 hours a day; often without human contact, adequate food, mental health counseling, appropriate medical treatment, or any kind of programming.

According to Scott Paltrowitz, an associate director at the Correctional Association of NY and one of three CAIC leaders who will be presenting Tuesday; “solitary causes people detained in these conditions to deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.”

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CAIC leaders say that solitary is an issue especially pertinent to New Yorkers because our state correctional facilities employ the use of solitary cells much more frequently than the national average rate -on any given day, around 4000 individuals in New York are locked in prison cells for 23 hours. The last hour of the day can sometimes be spent in an outdoor cage – usually an extension of the back of their cell.

Says Paltrowitz, “in New York, thousands of people are routinely held in solitary for months and years. Some people have spent decades in solitary.”

The campaign’s main focus is the passage of a statewide resolution to reduce the use of solitary confinement in prisons and county jails. The bill, Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Isolated Confinement (HALT), gained traction and recognition locally when the Tompkins County Public Safety Committee passed a resolution in March of last year to urge the NYS Assembly and Senate to pass the bill.

Local Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton officially signed on as a cosponsor of the bill soon after.

“President Obama, Supreme Court Justices, the United Nations, and the Pope have all denounced the use of solitary confinement,” Paltrowitz says, “it’s time for New York to be a leader in ending this torture. We can do that by passing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.”

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.