I just want to make it very clear that my opposition to Manafort’s treatment is neither partisan or new. I have in the past passionately advocated against the horrors of solitary confinement, something I share with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Reacting to the news of Manafort’s sentence, Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to publically condemn the use of solitary confinement for any prisoner, including Paul Manafort. Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes the island in the East River where the notorious complex of jails is located, called solitary confinement “torture” and said Manafort “should be released along with all people being held in solitary confinement”. Manafort, who is currently serving time in a federal prison is expected to be arraigned soon in New York on state charges and sent to the city’s Rikers Island jail.
I wouldn’t wish Rikers Island upon my worst enemy. I understand we all probably rejoiced when Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was charged with various financial crimes including tax evasion, bank fraud, and money laundering, but Rikers Island is an absolute hell hole filled with mass-murderers and violent crime offenders. Speaking as a human, nobody should be sent to solitary confinement and the decision to send an old man, a non-violent offender, to solitary confinement is profoundly wrong. Prison sentences aren’t hall-passes for the government to indulge in human rights violations. Even the ones who are evil and have benefited from white privilege their whole lives, don’t deserve Rikers Island.
Manafort will be sent to Rikers Island not because he has committed a crime that warrants its sentence but because he’s a high profile prisoner and because the judge that sentenced him, absolutely hates his President. Let’s talk about Manhattan judge Cyrus Vance for a moment; the judge that once called Stalin “My Himmler”. Up until the Manafort case, Judge Vance was known for being soft on white-collar crimes. He’s refused to persecute Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. in the past and also chose not to file sexual-assault charges against Harvey Weinstein despite blatant evidence that the former was guilty. He said at the time that the charges against Weinstein were unprovable and dismissed it as a B misdemeanor. Vance has always been known to have a very tough and selective approach to order and law, something which was acutely reflected in his handling of the Manafort case. To prevent the possibility that Manafort may be pardoned by President Trump, the Manhattan District Attorney quickly charged Manafort with 16 additional felonies based on state law. That way he ensured that Manafort would never be able to be pardoned as the President’s power to pardon only extends to federal – not state – crimes.
Vance wanted to break the man when he sentenced Manafort to solitary confinement; there was no other motivation. Solitary confinement is commonly referred to as ‘the hole’. It is a small space, barely enough for an adult to stand in, with a slit for light, to which prisoners are confined 23 hours a day. There will be no desks or phones. Food will be passed on a tray through a flap in the cell door. A small window covered with mesh will transform the little light that does seep in, into grayness. Virtually everyone who has written about solitary confinement both on the right and the left, deems it to be state-sanctioned torture. Manafort will, therefore, be tortured after being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for fraud, and breaking a law that requires lobbyists to report that they are working on behalf of a foreign government (Ukraine).
The scandal-plagued Rikers Island is due to shut down in the next 10 years and be replaced with modern and more humane facilities. Manafort is expected to be transferred to Rikers in the next few weeks where he will remain while awaiting his trial.