Here’s some good news: New York corrections officials today agreed to sweeping reforms of the state’s use of solitary confinement to discipline inmates, according to a statement by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Among other significant changes, the agreement will make New York the largest state to ban solitary confinement for inmates under 18.
“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort in New York’s prisons,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
"These are important reforms that will make the disciplinary practices in New York’s prisons more humane, and ultimately, our state’s criminal justice system more fair and progressive, while maintaining safety and security,” said Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci.
Here are the agreement’s stipulations:
A ban on the use of solitary confinement to discipline inmates under 18.
Sixteen- and 17-year-old inmates, even those under “the most restrictive form of disciplinary housing,” shall receive five days of exercise and out-of-cell programming a week, with a max of nineteen hours of cell time a day.
A ban on the use of solitary confinement to discipline pregnant inmates.
A limit of thirty days of solitary confinement for inmates who are developmentally disabled, as well as the implementation of an alternative, rehabilitative program for developmentally disabled inmates who would otherwise be sentenced to solitary.
The establishment of a new assistant commissioner position, as well as an additional research staff position, to collect data and monitor New York’s disciplinary system “with the goals of promoting consistency and fairness of SHU (special housing units) confinement sanctions and the health, safety and security of inmates and staff.”
The creation of sentencing guidelines for disciplining inmates with confinement. With the exception of certain violent and drug offenses, guidelines do not currently exist for most infractions.
US District Judge Shira Scheindlin signed the agreement today, along with representatives from the NYCLU and the DOCCS.
The agreement came as a result of a class action lawsuit, Peoples v. Fischer, filed by the NYCLU in 2011, challenging the widespread use of solitary confinement in New York. About 3,800 prisoners in the state are currently locked in solitary confinement cells for twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day, according to the civil liberties group. The New York Times reports that attorneys will drop the lawsuit in two years if the agreement stipulations are met.
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