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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Timothy A. Clune, Esq. Executive Director 518-432-7861 Tim.Clune@drny.org
Albany, NY, July 28, 2016 – Disability Rights New York (DRNY) finds that the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and Office of Mental Health (OMH) failed to adequately serve incarcerated people with disabilities. DRNY issued a report following its 2014-2015 monitoring and investigation of the Correctional Alternatives Rehabilitation Unit (CAR) at Sullivan Correctional Facility, which DOCCS opened in May 2014. The report includes findings of abuse and neglect and makes recommendations to DOCCS.
DRNY is the designated federal Protection and Advocacy System (“P&A”) for individuals with disabilities in New York State. DRNY has broad authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities, including within prisons. DRNY also has the authority to monitor the service delivery systems for people with disabilities across the State.
Because of complaints received in fall 2014, DRNY investigated allegations of abuse and neglect of incarcerated individuals with disabilities in the DOCCS system, and monitored the specialized programs operated by DOCCS and OMH.
DRNY’s investigation discovered several serious problems regarding the treatment provided to inmates with intellectual and mental health disabilities in the CAR program, including:
• Use of inconsistent and poorly defined procedures
• Lack of access to mental health services Failure to identify eligible participants
• Failure to properly use crisis intervention
• Excessive use of force on inmates with disabilities
DOCCS created CAR to address the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“ID/DD”) and to serve as a rehabilitative alternative to punitive isolation in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”). Individuals with ID/DD who receive punishment of isolation over 30 days in SHU are transferred to CAR, where they complete their punitive segregation sanction, but receive up to four hours of out-of-cell, therapeutic programming per day. CAR has available housing for up to 64 individuals. Although DOCCS designed CAR for individuals with ID/DD, many participants in CAR have a concurrent mental health diagnosis.
CAR is one element of SHU reforms that resulted from the Peoples v. Fischer litigation brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union about the use of solitary confinement. The creation of CAR is a crucial positive step in the development of progressive and therapeutic responses to the needs of incarcerated persons with ID/DD, many of whom have co-occurring mental health needs. The decision to establish CAR represents a significant commitment by the fifth largest corrections department in the country to re-align inmate management practices around principles of rehabilitation and treatment, rather than punitive segregation that is associated with psychological harm.
DRNY calls upon DOCCS to implement the changes needed to ensure that people with disabilities receive treatment appropriate to their diagnoses. “People with disabilities are still not receiving the rehabilitation and care they need, and more must be done to make CAR an appropriate and safe environment,” said Executive Director Timothy A. Clune.