Albany and New York, NY, July 21, 2020 -After 24 years in solitary confinement, Karen Murtagh, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS), and Bijan Amini, founding partner of AminiLLC announced the release from solitary confinement of their client, Imhotep H’Shaka, to the state prison’s general population. He had been confined for almost a quarter of a century to a nine by eleven foot cell, 23 hours a day, with no access to group educational, recreation, therapy or worship opportunities, including minimal preparation for release on parole for which he is eligible later this decade. Just this month the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) finally recognized Mr. H’Shaka’s basic constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments after two and a half years of litigation.
"More than15 days in solitary confinement has been defined as torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and DegradingTreatment or Punishment, but, as hard as it is to imagine, in these United States we obliterate that standard by commonly using solitary confinement far in excess of that time," said Karen Murtagh.
"Thanks to the combined efforts and compelling advocacy of PLS lawyers, Alissa Hull andMichael Cassidy, and Amini LLC lawyers, Bijan Amini, John W. Brewer and EricA. Seiff, Mr. H'Shaka is now out of solitary confinement for the first time in over 24 years and is being allowed to engage with other human beings. Mr. H’Shaka may never heal from the psychological trauma and physical damages he suffered due to his time in solitary confinement, but the torture has finally ended," said Ms.Murtagh.
Initially convicted as a teenager for homicide, and a subsequent assault in 1996involving a corrections officer, Mr. H’Shaka has been completely free of any serious altercation or violence for more than twenty years of incarceration. What the federal lawsuit exposed was the irresponsibly casual way in which DOCCS conducted the obligatory reviews of Mr. H’Shaka’s isolation. It was a pattern for these state officials to ignore mandatorily scheduled proceedings, withhold from Mr. H’Shaka copies of his prior review when appearing for a subsequent one, routinely commend him for his years of contemporary performance while equally routinely dwelling on his conduct in the 1990’s. With particular cruelty, DOCCS complained that Mr. H’Shaka was too great a risk for release to a general population because it was unknown how he would perform in a less restrictive environment without making such a step-down program available.
In H’Shaka v. Gorman, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, warned DOCCS that , “H’Shaka has raised serious grounds for concern about the authenticity of defendants’ review and the appropriateness of his continued segregation in lieu of even a carefully controlled transition back to the general population.[KM1]He has done nothing violent for 20 years and prison officials regularly praise his behavior and attitude.” With the benefit of this interim decision, together with probing depositions of DOCCS personnel, the transition finally began, slowly, a year ago. Now Mr. H’Shaka enjoys the simple pleasure of participating in group activities, eating in the company of others, and expanded time to interact with his family, and greater opportunity to consult with counsel as the case goes into its final phases.