Over 65 NYC Rabbis and Cantors Urge Speaker Johnson to Call a Vote and End Solitary Confinement in NYC Jails 

RELEASE DATE: December 14, 2021

224 West 30th St, Suite 1206
New York, NY 10001

Dear Speaker Johnson,

For the past decade or more, many of us have been engaged in the historic campaign to end long-term solitary confinement in New York State, achieved through the passage and enactment of the HALT Act this past year. Now, New York City has the unique opportunity to set a new standard for our state and nation — in recognition of the human rights of each person — by banning all solitary confinement in New York City jails. The legislation to do so is currently backed by a veto-proof supermajority of 35 City Council Members, and additionally has the support of eleven House representatives from New York, over 74 state lawmakers, and 220 organizations, including T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

As rabbis and cantors, we urge you to pass this legislation before the end of the current legislative session, ending solitary confinement and replacing it with alternative forms of separation that are proven to better enhance the safety, health, and well-being of all New Yorkers.

Solitary confinement is torture. In NYC, it is predominantly inflicted on Black and Latinx people. Solitary causes immense suffering and devastating harm, and has taken far too many minds and lives, including Kalief Browder, Layleen Polanco, Brandon Rodriguez, and countless others. As clergy and members of the Jewish community, we feel compelled to speak out against this form of torture. The very first two chapters of our Torah teach us that every human being is created in the image of God, and that no human being should be alone. Many of us have also visited congregants in prison, or served as prison chaplains. These pastoral experiences have taught us the degradation prisoners feel, the loneliness of being in prison, and the desperation of those unable to maintain normal human relationships while living in isolation. Our long-term partnerships with NY-CAIC, Jails Action Coalition, and other groups led by the New Yorkers most directly affected by these issues also demand that we follow the biblical injunction of Leviticus 19:16: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

While the Mayor promised to end solitary confinement, the Department of Correction continues to inflict various forms of solitary by another name. Even New York City’s official alternatives to solitary perpetuate it, allowing people to be locked in a cell alone for 23 hours a day. This is solitary confinement. The City Council must step in to truly end solitary, in all forms and by all names, and utilize alternatives proven to have better outcomes for everyone. Now is the time to act.

Speaker Johnson, in the past you have spoken powerfully about the need to end solitary confinement in NYC jails. We urge you to act on the words you so powerfully shared two years ago in your testimony to the New York City Board of Correction in December 2019: 

“Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual. It is torture. It is degrading. And it is sick and unacceptable…I am here to say today, unequivocally, that solitary confinement must be banned altogether.”

We could not agree more. There is no time to waste: Call a vote now on this vital legislation.

Sincerely,

Cantor Nancy Abramson
Rabbi David Adelson
Rabbi Guy Austrian
Rabbi Esther Azar
Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker
Cantor Josh Breitzer
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
Rabbi Donna Cephas
Rabbi Atara Cohen
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen
Rabbi Emily Cohen
Rabbi Brian Denker
Rabbi Judith Edelstein
Rabbi Barat Ellman
Rabbi Susan Falk
Rabbi Brian Fink
Rabbi Jonah Geffen
Rabbi Lisa Gelber
Rabbi Laura Gold
Rabbi Ilanit Goldberg-Gradess
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
Rabbi Deena Gottlieb
Rabbi Lisa Grant
Cantor Orna Green
Rabbi Steve Gutow
Rabbi Jill Hausman
Rabbi Shai Held
Rabbi Jason Herman
Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann
Rabbi Jo Hirschmann
Cantor Sandy Horowitz
Rabbi Margo Hughes-Robinson
Rabbi Mark Hurvitz
Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Rabbi Marisa James
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer
Rabbi Avi Killip
Cantor Eliana Kissner
Rabbi David L Kline
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin
Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
Rabbi Marc Margolius
Rabbi Jeffrey Marker
Rabbi Roly Matalon
Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson
Rabbi Joel Mosbacher
Rabbi Shuli Passow
Rabbi William Plevan
Rabbi Sarah Reines
Rabbi Max Reynolds
Rabbi Aviva Richman
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn
Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay
Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch
Cantor Lisa B Segal
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn
Rabbi Felicia Sol
Rabbi Joshua Stanton
Rabbi Abby Stein
Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Rabbi Jan Uhrbach
Rabbi Burt Visotzky
Rabbi Samuel Weintraub
Rabbi Nancy H Wiener
Rabbi Sara Zacharia

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