On Tuesday, January 16th, the federal monitor overseeing New York City jails criticized the City Council’s ban on solitary confinement. The monitor warned that eliminating solitary confinement could worsen conditions in jails, undermining inmate and staff safety.
Bill 549-A, opposed by Mayor Eric Adams and law enforcement unions, restricts solitary confinement to cases of violent behavior. The federal monitoring team expressed concerns in a letter, stating that managing violent individuals requires different supervision from the general jail population.
The team highlighted that the bill, passed on December 20th, might impede compliance with the 2015 Nunez court orders aimed at reducing jail violence and excessive force by guards. They argued that a universal approach to out-of-cell time for all inmates endangers the jail environment and contradicts sound correctional practices.
The bill’s requirement for 14 hours of out-of-cell time per day for all inmates, regardless of behavior, raised red flags for the federal monitor. They urged differentiation between solitary confinement and restrictive housing, noting that the latter safely manages violent individuals while allowing some privileges and programming access.
The federal monitor criticized the bill’s arbitrary timeframes for discharges from restrictive housing, which do not consider ongoing threats posed by certain individuals. This aspect, they argue, compromises the holistic approach of restrictive housing as an alternative to solitary confinement.
Department Of Correction Commissioner Lynelle Maginley-Liddie echoed these concerns, warning that implementing the bill threatens the safety of incarcerated individuals and DOC staff. She emphasized the need for humane but effective separation of violent individuals to maintain a safe correctional environment.
The federal monitor’s role stems from a settlement in the Nunez class-action lawsuit over violence and misuse of solitary confinement. The current monitor, Steve Martin, has had a contentious relationship with Mayor Adams’ administration. However, recent efforts, including the appointment of Maginley-Liddie as DOC Commissioner, have been made to align the city’s practices with the monitor’s recommendations.
As New York City grapples with this complex issue, the debate over solitary confinement and restrictive housing in jails underscores the challenges of reforming correctional practices.