POST WRITTEN BY: Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at Pace Law School, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights.
Continuing a national trend the New York City Board of Correction yesterday unanimously voted sweeping changes to the use of solitary confinement in New York City Jails. The reforms eliminate the use of solitary confinement entirely for anyone under the age of 18, for anyone 18 to 21 years old (this goes into effect in 2016), and for anyone with serious mental or serious physical disabilities or conditions. Terms in solitary for all others cannot exceed 30 consecutive days for a single infraction, and more than 60 days in any six month period. Due process protections are also expanded under these rule changes which will help limit the imposition of solitary on persons who did not break rules.
The changes voted by the Board of Correction address the major justification offered by opponents of solitary reform who have argued that solitary is necessary to contain the “worst of the worst,” inmates who are so violent that they cannot be safely confined in the general prison population. To deal with inmates who have acted in violent ways and who might pose a threat, the rules adopted by the Board of Correction allow for the creation of “Enhanced security Housing.” This housing allows the department to separate inmates who are violent without imposing solitary confinement on them. In these units inmates will be given services including psychological and mental health treatment to help them cope with violent tendencies and will not be locked into their cells 23 hours a day.
In the words of the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union the changes approved yesterday demonstrates that
New York City has taken an important stand for basic human rights and reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of prisoners, prison staff and our communities.
The reforms are a critical step in the national movement to end the shameful practice of solitary confinement in our nations penal institutions.
- Jasmine Garsd, New Solitary Confinement Plan For Younger Inmates at Rikers, NPR News (Jan. 14, 2015).
- ACLU, New Rules Make Rikers a Leader in Solitary Confinement Reform (Jan. 13, 2015).
- Michael Winerip & Michael Schwirtz, Rikers to Ban Isolation for Inmates 21 and Younger, The New York Times (Jan. 13, 2015).
- Mark Berman, New York City Will No Longer Put Its Youngest Prison Inmates In Solitary Confinement, The Washington Post (Jan. 13, 2015).