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New York State is Still Putting Young People in Solitar Confinement



solitary confinement

In 2015, New York City banned solitary confinement for incarcerated people under the age of 22. This decision came in the wake of the the highly publicized Kalief Browder case. Browder was imprisoned on Rikers Island in solitary confinement for three years awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack before committing suicide when prosecutors dropped their case against him.

According to a report from the New York Times, New York City jails have found a way to keep putting young people in solitary despite the new law. Since 2015, when the city adopted the ban on solitary, the transfer of young inmates to jails upstate has increased dramatically. Those facilities don’t have to follow regulations set by the city.

This year alone, ten inmates under 22 have been transferred to jails upstate. Eight of them are currently in solitary. The city usually transfers inmates if they believe they are vulnerable to violence or in danger of becoming violent themselves. But several defense lawyers say that it’s merely a way to exploit a loophole allowing harsh treatment of young detainees to continue.

The young people who were transferred have accused the state of using their transfers to enable abuse by correctional officers. According to the Times:

All the inmates sent to Albany said through their attorneys or in interviews that they have been beaten by guards and put into solitary confinement for months.

Steven Espinal, 19, who prosecutors say led an attack in February that left a Rikers guard’s spine fractured, said guards stomped and kicked him so badly when he arrived that he lost hearing in his left ear and passed blood in his urine. He was hospitalized, then sentenced to 600 days in solitary confinement for violating jail rules, his lawyer said.

While they beat him, Mr. Espinal said in an interview, the guards kept saying, “This ain’t New York City. We do what we want.”

Even without enduring physical abuse, isolation in solitary confinement is terrible for the brain—a UN report in 2011 said it was equivalent to physical torture and should be almost universally banned. Solitary confinement is known to cause lasting psychological damage. This is particularly concerning for young people, whose brains do not finish developing until their mid-twenties.

Moving inmates upstate can also interrupt their trials.

Albany is a two-and-a-half hour drive from New York City, and lawyers complain that inmates sent to the jail have missed court dates because they are transported late or not at all, prolonging their cases and pressuring them to accept plea deals.

Correctional officers and officials are resentful that they now must send problematic young inmates upstate rather than keep them in solitary on Rikers. The New York City Corrections Department must pay the facilities where the inmates are sent, at a cost of $175 per inmate per night. They told the Times that they paid more than $560,000 to jails in other counties to house inmates from the city between 2013 and 2017.

However officials feel about it, the practice of shipping young people upstate and into solitary is a violation of New York City’s law, which requires inmates to be transferred to the closest appropriate facility, and one where they can be close to lawyers and families.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has made some attempts to reign in the use of solitary confinement. Efforts to pass laws limiting solitary in New York at a state level have failed thanks to the Republican-controlled Senate.

The United States has about as many people in solitary confinement at any time as there are people in the entire UK prison system. In 2011, the average time spent in solitary confinement in California was 6.8 years. Nowhere in the world compares to this level of brutality when it comes to incarcerating people. It’s long past time that we stop torturing young people, and all people, in our country’s jails and prisons.


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Voting Today Can Get You A Bunch Of Free Stuff




election day in the us

Today is election day in the US and with comes not only an opportunity to exercise your civic responsibility, right and privilege, but also to get a bunch of free food and services. Although ideally people would vote even if they didn’t get a free side of fries in return, it’s good that people are going to get to the polls somehow.

Uber and Lyft are both offering discounts today, taking their political rivalry to the next level. Uber, you may remember, has been boycotted after showing inadvertent support for Trump.

The company declined to participate in a work stoppage that New York taxi drivers were engaged in to protest Trumps travel ban. Lyft became the service of choice for many people after the #deleteuber movement took hold. Now, both companies are offering deals on rides to the polls.

Uber’s is a discount only for first-time users if they put in a special election day code and Lyft is giving across the board 50% discounts for those going to vote.


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State Assembly Candidate from Bay Ridge Makes Ends Meet by Driving for Uber




adam baumel

Some politicians go home after a debate. State Assembly Candidate Adam Baumel gets in his car and does a shift with the ride share app Uber.

Baumel is running against incumbent Nicole Malliotakis to represent parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn. He started driving for the rideshare startup Uber in May 2016 while getting his bachelor’s degree through the G.I. Bill at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“I knew there was no guarantee I’d have a job immediately with a Political Science degree,” said Baumel, who moved from Harlem to Bay Ridge in May 2016, “So I made sure to set myself up to make income in some other way.”
Not long after, Baumel joined Stacey Pfeffer Amato’s state assembly campaign while continuing to supplement his income with Uber and has continued driving since. He said it gives him a particular perspective into what his potential constituents face.

“It shows I’m not just talk,” said Baumel, who has also driven for Lyft in the past. “I’m about the action that would benefit people who live the same sort of lifestyle I do.” He said he supports the legislation recently passed that would set a minimum wage for drivers of for-hire vehicles.

Baumel also said he identifies as an organized labor candidate and is frustrated by the amount of money politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken from union busters. “New York is a union state, and I see a lot of elected officials not acting like it.”

As an Uber driver in New York, he is in good company. The city has about 80,000 drivers who work for app-based dispatch companies like Uber or Lyft, according to a study co-authored by The New School and the University of California, Berkeley.

Baumel started driving a wheelchair-accessible vehicle nine months in and said it helped him to better understand the challenges many New Yorkers face when moving about the city.

Only 22 percent of New York subway stops are wheelchair accessible. Even then, the inefficiency of those stations keeps some wheelchair users from using them altogether. This is a hot topic in Bay Ridge, where the city recently renovated a station without making it accessible.

Liam McCabe, the president of the newly founded Verrazzano Republicans Club and a communication specialist at the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, drove for Uber last year during his own campaign for city council. He said he left his previous job working for Rep. Dan Donovan to avoid the possible conflict of interests working for an elected official might cause.

“I thought it was good to separate myself, and Uber allowed me to do that,” said McCabe.

Uber-driver candidates can also boast an endorsement that non-drivers cannot: their ratings. “My Uber rating is actually something I’m very proud of, Baumel said. “It’s a 4.96, and I’m about to hit 5,000 rides. I’ve been doing this for a while.”

“I think it’s kind of cool,” said Soha Said, who works at Mando Foods Mini Mart in Bay Ridge. “He’s just like us!”


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Voters, You’re Being Manipulated




protesters demonstrated near the tree of life synagogue

When the bigot who shot up a Pittsburgh synagogue arrived at the local hospital emergency room to be treated for his injuries, he was shouting, “Kill all the Jews.” He was then promptly treated, very professionally, by three Jews.

The hospital president, Jeffrey K. Cohen, a member of the congregation that had been attacked, met there with the suspect to ask respectfully how he was doing. (I try to avoid using the names of mass shooters, to avoid giving them attention they sometime crave.)

“He asked me who I was,” Dr. Cohen told ABC News. “I said, ‘I’m Dr. Cohen, the president of the hospital.’”

Side by side with the worst of humanity we find the best. And in Pittsburgh, there was more of the best. The Muslim community promptly raised $214,000 for the victims of the synagogue shooting and offered to provide security for Jews in the area.

HIAS, the Jewish agency whose assistance for refugees infuriated the synagogue attacker (he blamed Jews for bringing in brown people in the caravan from Central America), has been flooded with donations, many from non-Jews. As my own feeble way to challenge hatred, I donated to HIAS on Saturday and suggested to my newsletter readers that they might as well. If we all find our own ways to light a candle, we can drive out the enveloping darkness.

These expressions of our shared humanity are important in and of themselves, but also as a way of fighting back at the fear and loathing that are being weaponized in this election cycle. One example: the breathless fear-mongering about the caravan still almost 1,000 miles away in Mexico.
Let’s be blunt: Voters, you are being manipulated.

President Trump has described the caravan as an “invasion of our country,” and Fox News referred to it as an invasion more than 60 times in October, along with 75 times on Fox Business Channel, according to CNN.

This should be a nonstory. As I’ve written, most in the shrinking caravan will never enter the United States and they would amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of immigrants this year. In just the period of the caravan’s journey, another 16,800 Americans may die from drugs — a real threat!


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