AOC calls solitary confinement 'torture' after learning Manafort will be sent to jail in her district

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pursuing the progressive agenda of ending solitary confinement in prisons, chose an unlikely symbol for the cause Wednesday: President ’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Manafort, now serving a federal prison sentence in Pennsylvania for various financial crimes, is scheduled to be transferred to New York City’s notorious jail complex on Rikers Island to await trial on state charges related to his past financial dealings. The New York Times reported Tuesday that he would likely be segregated from the general jail population and held in isolation.

Reacting to the news on Twitter Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes the island in the East River where the complex of jails is located, called solitary confinement “torture” and said Manafort “should be released, along with all people being held in solitary.”

“A prison sentence is not a license for gov torture and human rights violations,” 

. “That’s what solitary confinement is.”

Progressive activists and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union have called for an end to solitary confinement, which many prisons use as a form of punishment for inmates who break the rules. It typically means locking the prisoner in his or her cell for 23 hours a day.

But according to the Times, high-profile inmates like Manafort are generally held in protective custody and isolated from the general population on Rikers, which holds around 7,500 detainees awaiting trial, or prisoners serving short sentences. The city plans to phase out the complex in the next decade.

A view from a jail cell on Rikers Island, March 12, 2015. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

A view from a jail cell on Rikers Island, March 12, 2015. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

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In Manafort’s case, being held in isolation is not punishment. It would be for his protection. An unnamed law enforcement official told the Times that the 70-year-old would most likely be housed in a former prison hospital on the island:

A law enforcement official familiar with the jail’s practices said he would probably be held in one of the oldest buildings in the island, known as the North Infirmary Command, which was built in the early 1930s, or in one of the complex’s newest structures, a set of fiberglass tent-like structures known as “Sprungs.”

Cell blocks in the infirmary command have eight cells and a day room with a television on each tier, the official said. The inmates are not locked in their cells during the day.

“That is where most high-profile detainees are held, including police officers, those accused of killing police officers, politicians and celebrities,” the paper noted.

Manafort was convicted last year on federal bank fraud, tax and conspiracy charges in a pair of cases related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The conviction led to speculation that may pardon Manafort, who Mueller said lied to investigators.

In March, the Manhattan district attorney brought a new case against Manafort, charging him with 16 felonies, including residential mortgage fraud. If convicted on the state charges, Manafort would still face prison time even if pardoned him for his federal crimes.

Manafort is expected to be transferred to Rikers within the next few weeks. He will remain there while awaiting his trial in New York.

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