Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Three Years in Solitary for ‘Legal Materials’

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York prisons abuse prisoners, particularly black prisoners, by putting them in isolation, sometimes for years, claims an inmate who says he was sentenced to three years in solitary for "unauthorized legal materials and filings."

Leroy Peoples sued state prison commissioner Brian Fischer and two subordinates, and officials at the Greenhaven and Upstate prisons, in Federal Court.

"This civil rights action challenges the constitutionality of New York State's

practice of arbitrarily sentencing tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals to months and years of extreme isolation and solitary confinement for alleged infractions that often present no threat to prison safety," the complaint states. "A disproportionate number of individuals sent to New York's isolation cells are black, and many suffer from serious mental illness. New York's arbitrary use of extreme isolation as punishment inflicts enormous damage on the incarcerated, and it is the

essence of 'cruel and unusual' punishment.

"New York State uses extreme isolation as punishment more than any other prison

system in the United States. Between 2007 and 2011 alone, New York imposed nearly 70,000 sentences to extreme isolation, and on any given day, approximately 4,300 people are locked down 23 hours a day in tiny concrete cells. Extreme isolation is imposed as a sanction for offenses as minor as 'untidy cell or person,' 'unfastened long hair,' 'littering,' and 'unreported illness.' Many prisoners are sentenced to New York's isolation cells for years.

"The conditions inside New York's isolation cells are deplorable and result in

severe physical and psychological harm. Individuals are confined idle and isolated for months and years on end in tiny cells. They are allowed only one hour of exercise a day in barren cages smaller than their cell. As additional punishment, prison staff may issue orders depriving individuals of what little remains - access to nourishing and edible food, exercise, bedding, and showers may all be denied. At some prisons, two men are forced to share a single isolation cell for weeks and months on end, often leading to violence. Requests for mental health care must be discussed through the food slot in the cell door.

"The experience of plaintiff Leroy Peoples typifies what is wrong and unconstitutional about New York's disciplinary system. An African-American man with a history of mental illness prior to his incarceration, Mr. Peoples has twice been sentenced to solitary confinement for offenses that involved no violence or threat to prison security. In 2009 he was sentenced to three years in extreme isolation for unauthorized legal materials and filings. Four years earlier, he was sentenced to six months for unauthorized possession of nutritional supplements. These confinements caused severe and long-lasting harm, and he dreads the prospect of being sent back to 'the box' as punishment. Defendants' policies, which result in unjustified, arbitrary, and grossly disproportionate sentences to extreme isolation, pose a

substantial risk that Mr. Peoples will be resentenced to extreme isolation. In fact, in just the last few months, corrections officers threatened to do just that because of complaints Mr. Peoples voiced about restrictions on his religious practices.

"Defendants' actions, policies, and procedures have violated and are violating Mr.

Peoples' rights under the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Mr. Peoples seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to protect him against the risk of future unlawful sentencing to extreme isolation, and damages for his confinement in 2009."

Peoples, 30, is represented by Taylor Pendergrass with the New York Civil Liberties Foundation.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.