Jails chief Joseph Ponte set to speak at solitary confinement public forum

The goal of the forum is to learn about alternatives to punitive segregation.

Newly appointed Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte is invited to speak at a public forum on Thursday about alternatives to solitary confinement in the city’s jail system.

While the city’s jail population has declined over the past few years to record lows, the use of solitary confinement, known locally as “punitive segregation, to discipline detainees has increased. Detainees in punitive segregation can be kept in special units up to 23 hours per day.

“It’s become really the modus operandi,” said Gordon Campbell, chair of the Board of Corrections, which is organizing the forum. “What we’re hoping to learn is what can happen in terms of training, what can happen in terms of a shift of the culture.”

Campbell said he has high hopes that Commissioner Ponte will be tackling the problem during his tenure, given a record of decreasing the use of punitive segregation in his previous job as Maine corrections chief.

Besides Commissioner Ponte, speakers at the forum are expected to include Harold Clarke of the Virginia Department of Corrections; Jane Lovelle of the San Francisco County jails; and Richard Dudley, a forensic psychiatrist who was researched solitary confinement extensively. Campbell will moderate.

The forum is one step in a process toward revising policies surrounding punitive segregation, which will get underway in September, Campbell said.

If you go:
Where: CUNY Law School, 2 Court Square, Long Island City, Queens
When: Thursday, June 12, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Cristian Salazar