New York has taken a substantial step in reforming its use of solitary confinement when disciplining prisoners throughout its correctional facilities. On Wednesday, the state reached an agreement in Federal Court to significantly curtail the use of solitary confinement, and to prohibit the use of such confinement when dealing with juvenile inmates.
According to the settlement, the state’s correction facilities will also use a more comprehensive approach when seeking to utilize solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool for inmates caught violating prison regulations. Specifically, correction officials will now adhere to “sentencing guidelines” that will dictate the length of time that can be imposed on certain infractions, and the maximum period that an inmate can be placed in solitary confinement. Likewise, the use of solitary confinement will also be limited to a period of 30 days when dealing with inmates who are pregnant, and those inmates who are disabled.
Notably, New York’s decision to limit the use of solitary confinement has come complimentary to a host of other states that have also begun to enact similar reform, including Colorado, Mississippi, and Washington. This recent movement amongst the states to deal with solitary confinement has come greatly appreciated by many humanitarian groups that have steadfastly contested the use of such confinement, noting the extremely negative psychological impact that it has on prisoners. Some prison officials have also begun advocating against the use of solitary confinement due to the elevated cost and risks associated with its use. Studies have suggested that segregated housing can be two to three more times costly to operate than general housing for inmates, and fail to address the fact that
[i]nmates kept in such conditions, most of whom will eventually be released, may be more dangerous when they emerge.
New York’s reform has also come at a time when the United States leads all other democratic nations in the number of inmates being held in solitary confinement. According to a New York Times report, there are at least 25,000 prisoners in solitary confinement within the United States, where some inmates are left to spend weeks, months, or even decades. Other studies have presented startling statistics relating to segregated housing within U.S. prisons, noting that up to 80,000 prisoners have been annually held in prison segregation units between federal and state facilities.
- Benjamin Weiser, New York State in Deal to Limit Solitary Confinement, N.Y. Times (February, 19, 2014).
- Erica Goode, Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity, N.Y. Times (March 10, 2012).
- The Commission on Safety & Abuse in America’s Prison, Confronting Confinement, Vera Institute of Justice (June 2006).
- State Reforms to Limit the Use of Solitary Confinement, ACLU (last visited Feb. 20, 2014).