The New York City Council passed a bill to ban solitary confinement in city jails on December 20th.
Mayor Eric Adams strongly opposed the bill, citing that it could potentially increase danger levels in jails for inmates and staff.
However, the bill received overwhelming support from the City Council, garnering sufficient backing to override any potential veto by the mayor.
The approved bill introduces a maximum four-hour isolation period for inmates posing immediate violence risks, in contrast to the indefinite solitary confinement previously practiced.
This approach ensures inmates involved in violent incidents are housed in restrictive units but are still allowed 14 hours daily outside their cells, accessing the same programs as other inmates.
Jumaane Williams, the New York City Public Advocate who proposed the bill, stated that prolonged solitary confinement in cramped jail cells is equivalent to torture.
Williams stated, “Solitary confinement is inhumane, and its presence in our city is indefensible.”
He added, “Committing an infraction in jail can cause you to lose privileges, not basic human rights. People in solitary are isolated, denied human contact and connection, denied support, and come out of these deplorable conditions worse than when they went in – and some don’t come out at all.”
Williams emphasized the need for new strategies in addressing safety at facilities like Rikers Island, notorious for its use of solitary confinement.
Speaker Adrienne Adams lauded the ban, describing it as a historic step toward justice and inmate safety.
Speaker Adams said, “The physical and psychological harm caused by solitary confinement leads to increased death and violence in jails, endangering those incarcerated, as well as correction officers and staff.”
The legislation’s timing is crucial, considering the potential federal takeover of Rikers Island due to escalating violence and the city’s plans to close the facility.
The bill also echoes similar efforts in states like California, where legislation to limit segregated confinement was introduced but vetoed.
The bill’s passing follows extensive research and advocacy highlighting the detrimental effects of prolonged isolation.
Research conducted by the National Library of Medicine reveals that individuals subjected to solitary confinement exhibit a self-harm risk that is over seven times higher, along with a six-fold increase in the likelihood of committing fatal self-harm.
One such instance was the case of Kalief Browder, a teenager who spent nearly half of his three-year pre-trial detention in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, leading to his eventual suicide.
Mayor Adams, who opposed the bill, criticized a specific clause requiring a hearing before placing an inmate in solitary confinement, questioning its practicality.
The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and the conservative Common Sense Caucus also opposed the bill, citing safety concerns of other inmates.
This legislative decision coincides with another City Council bill requiring the NYPD to report all investigative stops, which Mayor Adams warned could hinder police response efficiency.