NYC Likely To Ban Solitary Confinement

New York Mayor Eric Adams has objected to plans to abolish solitary confinement in the Big Apple’s jails. New York City Council voted in December to ban the practice in a victory for prisoners’ rights activists, but Mayor Adams warned of unintended consequences. Mr. Adams struck a conciliatory tone when he said he disapproves of solitary confinement but nevertheless does not support the legislation that passed through the City Council by 39 votes to 7. The size of the vote in favor of the motion means that if Adams vetoes the policy, the Council can overrule the veto.

Prisoner rights groups said solitary confinement amounts to torture and is illegal under international law. They pointed to deaths and suicides related to the practice in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. Kalief Browder, jailed in 2010 for stealing a backpack, spent 2.5 years of his 3-year sentence in solitary and killed himself upon his release. His family sued the city in 2019 and were awarded $3.3 million. Campaigners say solitary confinement is guilty of “causing immense suffering and harm, taking countless lives.”

Mr. Adams, however, said the Council has not thought the matter through or considered the danger to other inmates if corrections officers cannot separate a particularly dangerous prisoner from the general population.

The new legislation will only allow solitary imprisonment for two hours during the day and eight hours at night. Prisoners can be separated in certain circumstances if they threaten others, for example, but only for a maximum period of four hours.

Prisoner advocacy group the Prisoner Policy Initiative argues that solitary confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and should, therefore, be ruled unlawful. In a 2020 report, it said that while prisoners in isolation make up only around 6% to 8% of America’s prison population, they account for half of the jail suicides. “It’s possible for them to develop a specific psychiatric syndrome due to the effects of isolation,” the group claimed.