UNITED STATES NEWS

NYC Council approves bill banning solitary confinement in city jails

Dec 20, 2023, 3:15 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Over the objections of Mayor Eric Adams, New York City lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday meant to ban solitary confinement in the city’s jails.

The bill that was overwhelmingly approved allows jails to isolate inmates who pose an immediate risk of violence to others or themselves in “de-escalation” units for a maximum of four hours. Those placed in longer-term restrictive housing would need to be allowed out of their cells for 14 hours each day and get access to the same programming available to those in the general population.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the legislation, said Wednesday ahead of the vote that solitary confinement amounts to torture for those subjected to lengthy hours in isolation in small jail cells.

He and other supporters, including prominent members of New York’s congressional delegation, have pointed to research showing solitary confinement, even only for a few days, increases the likelihood an inmate will die by suicide, violence or overdose. It also leads to acute anxiety, depression, psychosis and other impairments that may reduce an inmate’s ability to reintegrate into society when they are released, they said.

“This is about safety at Rikers,” Williams said, referring to New York’s infamous island jail complex. “If we want something different, we need to try something different.”

The city Board of Correction, which oversees city-run jails, recently limited de-escalation confinement to six hours, but inmate advocates argue that some people have been locked in such units for far longer.

A report released by the Columbia University Center for Justice on Wednesday said inmates in restrictive housing can be locked up for 23 to 24 hours a day.

Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for Adams, said the legislation would “foster an environment of fear and instability” in the city’s jails.

“It would make it harder to protect people in custody, and the predominantly Black and brown workers charged with their safety, from violent individuals,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

The mayor, a former NYPD captain, in a televised interview ahead of the vote, took specific aim at a provision of the bill that requires an inmate be granted a hearing before being placed in solitary confinement. But he stopped short of saying he would veto it. Council leaders have said they have the votes to override a veto if necessary.

“What City Council is saying is while they’re in jail if they commit an assault on someone, an inmate or a correction officer, before we place them into punitive segregation, we need to allow them to have a trial of due process,” he told WNYW. “That is saying, if someone assaults me on the street, before I could place them in jail, they must have a trial to determine if I’m going to arrest them and place them in the jail. That makes no sense.”

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the union representing staff in the city’s jails, has also railed against the bill, as has the conservative “Common Sense Caucus” of the council.

Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, who co-chairs the caucus, said the proposal would “essentially take away a vital tool our correction officers have to keep everyone safe.”

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Follow Philip Marcelo at twitter.com/philmarcelo.

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NYC Council approves bill banning solitary confinement in city jails