New York City must end solitary confinement now

Our beloved Erick Tavira died in solitary confinement on Rikers Island on Oct. 22, 2022. Officials tried to give it another name. It’s still solitary confinement. Call it what you want, Erick died after being locked alone in a cell in solitary confinement with nobody watching him.

Why did they put him in there? Why didn’t they give him better treatment? Why did they put him in a cell alone? Our hearts are broken. 

Erick had dreams just like everyone else. He liked writing. He liked to sing. He liked to be happy all the time.

He was incarcerated because he had mental health needs. He needed treatment, not jail and not solitary confinement. Jail is not treatment. Solitary confinement is not treatment. Solitary confinement causes mental health harm, increases the risk of death, and makes everyone less safe by causing people to deteriorate.

For years, officials have been promising to end solitary confinement and even claimed they have ended solitary. After Kalief Browder died, they promised to end solitary. After Layleen Polanco died, they promised to end solitary. Yet, the Department of Correction continues to lock people in solitary confinement by many different names.

Brandon Rodriguez died in solitary confinement in a shower cage. The jails then locked Elijah Muhammad in solitary in those same shower cages to the point he was found with a ligature around his neck. Though he survived that time, the jails again locked him in a different form of solitary, this time leading up to his death.

Despite all of these and countless other deaths, the city jails continue to use these forms of solitary and doubled down on locking people in new forms of solitary confinement. In 2022, the jails added to their list of units inflicting solitary by another name, when they started carrying out a policy of repeated 25-hour lockdowns for people in the general jail population in violation of a 44-year-old minimum health and safety standard that says that all people in the general jail population must have access to at least 14 hours out-of-cell per day.

Those minimum health and safety standards are there for a reason — to make sure people stay safe, healthy, and alive.

They locked Erick in solitary in this way, and now he is no longer with us. We don’t have Erick today. We’re not going to have him for any other Christmas, Thanksgiving, or birthday. They took Erick away from us.

Solitary confinement needs to end now. How many more people have to die?

We are grateful that City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and a large veto-proof supermajority of the City Council has just taken a tremendous step to finally end solitary confinement, in all forms and by all names, by passing Intro. No. 549.

Now it is time for Mayor Adams to sign the bill into law. Polling data shows that a widespread bipartisan majority of voters support the provisions of this bill. If New York City had enacted the provisions of this bill last year or the year before, Erick would still be alive today. The mayor must sign it now to make sure that not another life is lost to solitary confinement. And if he does not sign it, the City Council must override a veto, as thankfully Speaker Adams has committed to do.

Ending solitary confinement in the city jails must be just one step. Political leaders and officials must provide people with mental health care and other supports in the community and stop incarcerating them. A detainee died in custody yesterday, the first of the year. Last year, there were nine who died in custody, 29 people in the last two years, and 45 people since 2021, not all from solitary confinement, but from abuse and neglect, denial of basic medical care, and denial of other basic services. There are no words for the pain every one of these family members is facing.

Erick said “I don’t yell, I roar.” We will continue to roar for Erick and for everyone else who is in solitary confinement and everyone else who is incarcerated. We need solitary confinement to end now. Not tomorrow, not next year. Now. We need justice for everyone. Not just for the loved ones, but for the people who are still in there. They are human beings. They are not animals. Just open your eyes and see the pain.

End solitary confinement now. Provide people with mental health care in the community now. Stop incarcerating people now. We do not want any more lives to be lost.

Tavira and Torres Tavira are the mother and sister of the late Erick Tavira.

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