On April 21, 2015, a 30-year old black man was beaten to death by corrections officers in Beacon. They continue on active duty. No charges have been filed.
Sam Harrell was serving 8 years on a drug charge at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, located in Beacon and Fishkill. He had bipolar disorder and on April 21 somehow believed his sister was coming to pick him up, even though he had several years left to serve. He packed his bags and headed to leave. He was subdued and handcuffed, and was then beaten to death by as many as 20 corrections officers, some shouting racial slurs. He was then thrown down the stairs, on the orders of the ranking officer on the scene, who had already settled two lawsuits for brutality. This was documented by an investigative report published in August by the New York Times, and was witnessed by at least 19 people. No charges have been filed, and the COs continue on the job.
You can read that Times report here: Prison Guard ‘Beat Up Squad’ Is Blamed in New York Inmate’s Death, August 18, 2015
That same article noted that the Correctional Association, an independent non-profit, had issued two reports over the past decade documenting persistent abuse at the Fishkill prison and had issued a specific warning about the very shift of corrections officers who killed Samuel. The Poughkeepsie Journal went on to document that there have been 175 lawsuits settled against NY corrections officers for abuse in the last five years alone, many in the Fishkill prison. Foreshadowing what would be done to Sam, the prisoners were often already handcuffed when beaten, and suffered extreme injuries including broken bones, loss of hearing, and smashed teeth. One third of the prisoners at Fishkill being subjected to this violence are themselves in for non-violent offenses. Another deeply troubling report by the New York Times documents how time after time, even the most horrific of cases, there is almost zero accountability for COs.
The Poughkeepsie Journal articles: State pays $450,000 to beaten inmate, one of 24 payouts, and “Officer to inmate: ‘There ain’t no cameras to save you now‘”
The NYT article on lack of accountability for COs: “Guarding the Prison Guards: New York State’s Troubled Disciplinary System“
Meanwhile, solitary confinement is used extensively at the Fishkill prison and throughout New York state. It has been documented to cause long-term psychological damage after mere days. The UN considers it torture if it lasts more than 15 days. Yet over 40% of people at Fishkill prison spend time in solitary and their median sentence is five months. 80% of those sentences are for non-violent offenses. 40% of those people have identified mental health issues before being put in solitary.
Seventeen year old Ben Van Zandt, who was diagnosed with psychosis and depression, was sentenced to 4-12 years in prison for burning down an unoccupied house. On October 30, 2014, at the age of 21 Ben committed suicide while in solitary confinement at the Fishkill prison, after several “long stretches” in solitary.
Half of successful suicides in prison happen in solitary, despite only 3 to 6 per cent of the prison population being held in isolation.
North Country Public Radio published a series of brief, excellent articles on solitary confinement, “Solitary confinement in North Country prisons.”
The Times Union ran an article on Ben Van zandt entitled, “The brief, anguished life of a mentally ill inmate.”
More on solitary confinement
As one CO put it, “We’re doing time too, we’re just getting paid for it.” Corrections officers have higher-than-normal rates of alcohol abuse, illness, depression and divorce, and have a suicide rate roughly double that of police offers and the general public. They also suffer PTSD at rates comparable to veterans returning from armed conflict. One study suggested that COs’ life expectancy is 16 years less than the national average. COs talk about how stressful the job is (or how mind-numbing, for those working in the solitaty units), how inhumane the conditions are, and how it affects their behavior at home as well as at work. It’s a job that comes with little public appreciation and COs often feel low morale.
The Guardian ran an excellent article on COs entitled, “Prison guards can never be weak’: the hidden PTSD crisis in America’s jails.”
Family Sues Over New York Prison Death As Ex-Inmate Speaks Out on ‘Beat Up Squad’
– New York Times, September 9, 2015
“On Wednesday, lawyers from Mr. Harrell’s family filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that more than a dozen officers were responsible for his death, which a medical examiner ruled a homicide…”
U.S. to Join Inquiry Into Death of New York Prison
– New York Times, August, 27, 2015
“The office of the United States attorney in Manhattan announced on Thursday that it was joining the investigation into the death of Samuel Harrell, a prisoner at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, N.Y., who inmate witnesses say was handcuffed and beaten severly this year by a group of corrections officers…”
CA Calls on DOJ to Investigate DOCCS n Wake of Fishkill Homicide
– Correctional Association of NY, August 18, 2015
“On August 18, the CA released a statement condemning the pervasive culture of violence at New York State prisons and calling on the Department of Justice to fully investigate the entire Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). In response to a New York Times story today reporting the April homicide by Fishkill C.F…”
#BlackLivesMatter Activists Call For Charges In Brutal Death Of Prisoner Samuel Harrell
– Huffington Post, August 27, 2015
“#BlackLivesMatter, and #BlackPrisonersMatter too. That’s the message protesters and family members of Samuel Harrell sent to an upstate New York district attorney Thursday. They’re demanding that Dutchess County District Attorney Bill Grady bring charges against the 20 or so corrections officers who brutally beat and killed Harrell, a 30-year-old black inmate, earlier this year inside the Fishkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison 60 miles north of New York City…”
The Death and Short Life of Samuel Harrell
– Gawker, September 19, 2015
“There are a few things that people don’t know about my brother Samuel Harrell. He wasn’t just an inmate,” Cerissa Harrell tells a group of nearly 50 prepared to blockade the Dutchess County District Attorney’s office on Poughkeepsie’s very public Main Street. Cerissa stands with Diane Harrell, Samuel’s widow. Hands intertwined, Cerissa continues, “Sam’s life was stolen from him. He was only 30 years old. He had so much more life to live…”
– The Marshall Project, February 28, 2015
“On the evening of Aug. 9, 2011, one month before the 40th anniversary of the bloody Attica prison riot, a guard in the remote facility in western New York was distributing mail to inmates in C Block, one of the vast tiers of cells nestled behind its towering 30-foot walls…”
10 Things You Need to Know About Brutality and Abuse at Clinton Correctional Facility
– Correction Association of NY, September 4, 2015
“The Correctional Association of NY conducted in depth interviews with 30 people currently incarcerated at Clinton on August 19 and 20, 2015, and corresponded with many more people held at the prison over the last few months. The information reported provides further confirmation of both extensive staff brutality in the aftermath of the June escape from Clinton, as reported by the New York Times; and longstanding and pervasive staff violence and abuse at Clinton…”
The Correctional Association of New York is a non-profit organization, and is the only private organization in New York with unrestricted access to prisons. It uses this “unique legislative mandate to expose abusive practices, educate the public and policymakers about what goes on behind prison walls, and advocate for systemic, lasting and progressive change.” The following are two of their reports that specifically warned about abuse, intimidation, and more at the Fishkill prison prior to Samuel Harrell’s murder.
Fishkill Correctional Facility (2013 Report)
– Correctional Association of NY, December 18, 2013
“The Correctional Association’s Prison Visiting Project visited Fishkill on April 17 and 18, 2012…”
Fishkill Correction Facility (2005 Report)
– Correctional Assocation of NY, August 15, 2005
“The Correctional Association visited Fishkill on February 15, 2005….”
– The New Yorker, March 30, 2009
“Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.…”
Legislation Limiting Solitary Confinement in New York Gains Momentum
– Solitary Watch, April 29, 2015
“A bill to significantly limit the use solitary confinement in New York state prison and local jails gained momentum last week, after nine Assembly members and two state senators agreed to support the legislation. The new sponsorships, secured after a day of lobbying that brought more than 120 activists to Albany from around the state, brought the total number of co-sponsors to 33 in the Assembly and 11 in the Senate…”
UN Committee on Torture Says U.S. Must Reform Its Use of Solitary Confinement
– Solitary Watch, December 5, 2014
“On November 28, the United Nations Committee Against Torture released a 15 page reportreviewing the United States’ compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The report cites the excessive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails as a violation of CAT, and recommends a set of dramatic reforms…”
The Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, FAQ and Resources
The New York Civil Liberties Report, “Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons”
“Prison Officers Need Help, but They Won’t Ask for It“
– Newsweek, May 20, 2015
““My girlfriend is going to kill herself,” the woman said. “I have a girlfriend who’s a corrections officer, and she’s talking about killing herself. I just don’t know what to do…”
“High Stress, Low Glamor: Correctional Officers Struggle with Workplace Strains“
– PoliceOne.com, May 8, 2005
“The commute takes about 40 minutes, from the notoriously tough state prison at Attica to Mike Verrastro’s pool-and-patio-equipped home in this middle-class Buffalo suburb. Two different worlds, but the veteran correctional officer ruefully acknowledges the difficulty keeping them separate.”
Mass Incarceration in America
American Slavery, Reinvented
– The Atlantic, Sept 21, 2015
“Crops stretch to the horizon. Black bodies pepper the landscape, hunched over as they work the fields. Officers on horseback, armed, oversee the workers. To the untrained eye, the scenes in Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, an Atlantic documentary filmed on an old Southern slave-plantation-turned-prison, could have been shot 150 years ago…”
Are Americans Finally Facing Up to the True Costs of Mass Incarceration?
– The Nation, September 16, 2015
“But the goal of incarceration isn’t to keep communities safe, a point that prison abolitionists have been arguing for years. Its true goal is to make invisible those who would be better served by programs that directly address their mental illness, illiteracy, addiction or poverty…”
Mass Incarceration, Visualized
– The Atlantic, Sept 11, 2015
“The rate of incarceration is so high, so socially-concentrated, that we’re no longer incarcerating the individual, but we’re incarcerating whole social groups… There is a very real risk here that incarceration becomes an inherited trait…”
The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration
– The Atlantic, October 2015 Issue
“American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they’ve failed to reckon with history…”