Report on Upstate Supermax
Currently, I am in a Supermax, what you refer to as control unit/ solitary confinement/ the box.
There are five buildings. Each building has three blocks, each block has two galleries and on each gallery there are twenty-five cells. Within each cell there are two prisoners. In total there are fifty people on a gallery- 100 people in a block - 300 people in a building.
The exception is that one of these buildings are occupied by cadre. These cadre are the workers. These workers are akin to those of a beehive, they're the lifeline of the facility. They clean the facility, and basically maintain it so that the facility is self-contained.
The four other buildings are strictly occupied by prisoners who are locked down, like myself, for 24 hours. A single prisoner might occupy a cell depending on that prisoners prior disciplinary history in the Special Housing Unit. Being that when one is locked in the box, we are liable to take anyone as a bunky, on several occasions people have been killed and some times even raped. Fights are common because of the frustration and being forced to double bunk with someone that you're incompatible with.
Upstate was built in 1999. It was the last Special Housing Unit that I know of that was built within the past 9 years. There are several more SHU buildings throughout New York State.
As far as the racial makeup, my observation & analysis is based on the numerous facilities i've been in, whether solitary confinement or group population. More than 50% of the prisoners are Black, 30% are Latino and the rest is made up of whites and those of Asian descent. This ratio also holds true for Upstate (which is where i'm at). More than half the cells on each gallery is occupied by Blacks, then Latinos. Many galleries have no white prisoners, if there is two cells on a gallery occupied by whtie prisoners, that itself is a large number.
The way that the system of pairing prisoners works is like this: People are put together based on their race - Blacks can only bunk with other Blacks (there are exceptions if a prisoner bunk goes to population e may request to have someone in the cell, but that doesn't mean the request will be granted). Latinos are bunked with Latinos and whites with whites. Now, Latinos and whites are allowed to be bunked. Basically, Blacks must be bunked with Blacks and all the other racial groups could be bunked together.
I doubt that the state plans to open new facilities for two reasons. (1) Organizations such as MIM have been putting a lot of pressure on the state to close the SHU. There has also been pressure around the fact that many of the prisoners that are locked away in solitary confinement should be put in psychiatric facilities. (2) Another reason is that many prisoners are receiving harsh sentencing to solitary confinement for minor infractions - anxiety attacks is a common one. This is a result of the tenure of Governor Pataki whose "tough on crime" rhetoric allowed him to build more prisons. More prisons were built in Governor Pataki's tenure of two terms than at any other time. Within the past 8 years several jails have been closed and many of those being incarcerated are parole violators who are recycled back into the system. So it is harder to justify the need for so many SHUs.
Unfortunately, I don't have the articles any more, but i have read a couple of journal articles on the harmful effects these units have on humyn beings. In reality there is no value to these prisons, except to control prisoners. They use them to break us down. There is nothing rehabilitative about this place.
Shut Down the Control Units