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Queens Chronicle

Resolved to amend solitary confinement

Councilman seeks to end the isolation of immigrants facing only civil charges

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:34 am, Thu Nov 14, 2013.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) is urging the United States Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of placing immigrant detainees in solitary confinement — an act he says does not coincide with the charges these people face in most cases.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration detention is supposed to be a civil, nonpunitive measure to ensure a detainee attends immigration court hearings and complies with court orders.

However, Dromm, an avid supporter of the immigrant community, said that because most of the detainees are facing civil charges, criminal punishment, especially solitary confinement, should not be used.

The councilman alleges that hundreds of thousands of detainees are subjected to solitary confinement each year.

“No person, unless in emergency situations, should be put in solitary confinement,” Dromm said. “In the case of detainees, they are not criminals and should not be treated as such. Reports show that some detainees who identify as LGBT or have a mental disability are put in solitary confinement to ‘protect’ them from other inmates but there should be another way to assure their safety.

“The extreme conditions of solitary confinement cause post-traumatic stress disorder and other long-lasting effects that can plague these individuals and keep them from successful re-entry into society.”

This is not the first time Dromm has fought against solitary confinement. In March, he introduced a bill that would require the Department of Correction to post a monthly report on its website about punitive segregation.

He also issued a separate resolution seeking to end the practice of time owed.

The two pieces of legislation are still in committee and received split opinions. Advocates for prison reform were greatly in favor while the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association were not pleased.

“I would ask the councilman if he has been punched in the face, had urine or feces put in his mouth, had a crime committed against him — then he could talk,” said Neal Seabrook, of the NYCOBA, in a previous interview.

According to several studies conducted on solitary confinement, the effects of this punishment can have a lasting impact on individuals due to their being placed in a small, constantly-lit room and cut off from human contact for long periods of time.

A representative from ICE said the agency does not comment on local issues but pointed out that its website addresses the issue of immigrant solitary confinement.

Not surprisingly, immigration activists are happy with the councilman’s idea.

“Whether in the criminal justice system or the immigration detention system, there’s no justification for the practice of solitary confinement, which has been shown to be cruel, expensive, arbitrary, and ineffective,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Dromm held a resolution hearing on Oct. 24 and introduced the resolution to the City Council on Oct. 30, though it may not be brought to the floor until next year.

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