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New York City Council passes bill restricting the use of solitary confinement in city jails

21 Dec 2023, Jail News, by

The New York City Council voted 39 to 7 in favor of largely banning solitary confinement in city jails, limiting its use.

New York City Council passes bill restricting the use of solitary confinement in city jails - Inmate Lookup

The New York City Council has taken a significant step by approving a measure that could effectively eliminate most uses of solitary confinement in city jails, marking a potential end to a centuries-old and contentious practice.

The term “solitary confinement” is defined by the National Commission on Correctional Health as “the housing of an adult or juvenile with minimal to rare meaningful contact with other individuals” and is also termed “administrative, protective, or disciplinary segregation.”

In a decisive vote of 39 to 7, the City Council passed a bill that seeks to restrict the use of solitary confinement in city jails, permitting it only for a 4-hour de-escalation period during emergencies, such as situations where a detainee poses a threat to others or themselves. The measure also mandates detainees to spend a minimum of 14 hours outside their cells daily.

This legislative move comes in response to increased scrutiny following deaths reported at the Rikers Island jail complex and other city facilities, with some incidents linked to prolonged solitary confinement, according to an NBC News report.

The contentious nature of solitary confinement is not unique to New York City; it has sparked debates nationwide. Advocates argue that it amounts to torture, while proponents consider it a legitimate punishment for inmates who violate prison rules.

The New York measure now awaits the signature of Mayor Eric Adams within the next 30 days to take effect. However, Adams has expressed reservations about the bill’s current form, setting the stage for potential conflict as the City Council, with a two-thirds majority in support, could override a mayoral veto.

NBC News reported that despite a 2021 vote from the Board of Corrections to end solitary confinement in New York City’s jails, reports suggest that the practice persisted.

During a City Council hearing in the previous year, jail officials defended the use of solitary confinement, highlighting its importance in dealing with violent inmates to ensure safety, another news outlet reported. Mayor Adams echoed these concerns, suggesting that the proposed measure might compromise the safety of jails.

Adams criticized the assault on public safety on Wednesday after the vote, according to The Times. The city has a philosophical difference, and the numerical minority controls the narrative, according to Adams.

A United Nations official stated over a decade ago that the U.S. should ban solitary confinement. The official explained that using solitary confinement as a punishment during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for individuals with mental disabilities or juveniles can be considered torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Studies indicate that individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly Blacks and Latinos, face a higher likelihood of being perceived as threatening and experiencing solitary confinement.

The American Civil Liberties Union has found that the punishment causes serious psychological damage, increases mental health issues, and inflicts other forms of harm among incarcerated people, particularly disabled inmates. Solitary confinement has accounted for almost 50% of suicides among incarcerated individuals.

The Columbia University Center for Justice report states that the New York City Department of Corrections has placed people in structurally restrictive housing and has repeatedly locked up inmates for longer than the limit of six hours.

In an NBC News report, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who helped introduce the bill in 2022, told reporters ahead of the City Council’s vote that the U.N. has called the isolation torture, and that is what they want to end.

Williams said they want to ensure that the proven psychological effects are not happening in the city and, ideally, throughout the country.

Advocates against solitary confinement propose alternatives like separating inmates through incentives and programs instead of isolating them. Researchers have found that separation is more effective and safer for incarcerated individuals, jail staff, and communities.

Solitary Watch reports that 45 states in the U.S. have introduced bills to limit, regulate, or ban solitary confinement, and 25 states have introduced bills to limit solitary confinement to 15 days or less. Three bills were approved. The federal level has also taken action to address solitary confinement by introducing bills in both the U.S. House and the Senate this year to ban its use in federal prisons.



Image source: Photo by Ron Lach :