Tagged: new york criminal justice reform

NYC Board of Corrections Issues Restrictions on Solitary Confinement

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.

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No Recording of Police Interrogation in New York

On May 1, 2009, Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, announced the creation of the New York State Justice Task Force—one of the first permanent task forces on wrongful convictions in the United States. The Justice Task Force was formed to study wrongful convictions, learn the causes of wrongful conviction, and propose recommendations to make wrongful convictions less likely to occur

Information about the Task Force, its mission and members, as well as its recommendations, can be found here.

Among other criminal justice proposals, the Task Force is unanimously recommending electronic recording of police interrogation because

recording can aid not only the innocent, the defense and the prosecution, but also enhances public confidence in the criminal justice system by increasing transparency as to what was said and done during the interrogation. Indeed, among its many benefits, recording helps identify false confessions; provides an objective and reliable record of what occurred during an interrogation; assists the judge and jury in determining a statement’s voluntariness and reliability; prevents disputes about how an officer conducted himself or treated a suspect, and serves as a useful training tool to police officers.

Over 800 jurisdictions nationwide, including the states of Alaska, Minnesota and Illinois, regularly record police interrogations. A 2004 study conducted by Illinois officials of 200 locations that implemented this reform found that police departments overwhelmingly embrace the measure as good law enforcement whose time has come. www.innocenceproject.org

Certainly recording of interrogation could have prevented the wrongful conviction of Jabbar Washington, whose case is discussed once again in the New York Times this morning.

But legislation to require recording of police interrogation is being blocked in New York by the recalcitrance of the NYC District Attorneys. Why don’t our district attorneys join collective efforts to improve the criminal justice system? Why shouldn’t New York be in the forefront of criminal justice reform? Why are we lagging behind?