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Jamesville Penitentiary to no longer house youth in solitary confinement

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On the front lawn of Grace Episcopal church a man shivers in cold Sunday afternoon, confined in a little mock cell. He's there to prove his point, solitary confinement has to stop.

"Even locking an animal up for 24 hours a day is inhuman," said Timothy Kirkland, a Syracuse resident and former prisoner.

At Sunday's rally to end Solitary confinement, Kirkland read aloud a letter written by a 16-year-old living Jamesville Penitentiary. "It almost brought tears to my eyes I don't think everybody understands the magnitude of solitary confinement."

Kirkland has been in the jail cell, he says being alone for weeks at a time can really take its toll on a person's mind, making them think differently and making re-entry into society nearly impossible.

"Post traumatic syndrome disorders its equivalent to that," said Kirkland.

Community members at the event put on by ACTS (Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse) agree. Based upon a report from a jail ministry visitation team from Grace Episcopal Church, an ACTS congregational member, ACTS learned early this year that youth are regularly placed in solitary confinement at the Onondaga County Correctional Facility in Jamesville.

County Executive Joanie Mahoney, R-Onondaga County, announced at the rally that all 16 and 17-year-olds, sentenced or un-sentenced, will now be housed at the Syracuse justice center.

"It became clear that while neither solution is ideal, it's better for the 16 and 17-year-olds to be at the justice center where they are connected to the Syracuse City School district and their families have access to them," said Mahoney, who is up for reelection next month.

Mahoney said the county had been fielding complaints that no CENTRO routes went to the prison. In addition she said staffing needs at the penitentiary made solitary confinement necessary and making the decision to transfer of youth meant committing to deal with more issues.

"It's going to create some problems but they are problems we are going to have to work through to do best by the kids," said Mahoney.

There are currently 32 16 and 17-year-olds being held in Jamesville.

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