New York Solitary Confinement

Rikers Island.

New York City plans to end solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger.

New Mayor Bill DiBlasio is taking the lead on some prison reform for juveniles and youth in New York City:

The move stems in part from the building of new “enhanced supervision housing” at Rikers Island, an infamous prison in New York City, which would:

allow wardens to lock 250 inmates in their cells for up to 17 hours a day, restrict their movements and access to the law library, monitor their mail, and limit contact visits.

New York City has been placed on notice and threatened with law suits if it did not improve conditions in which youth are held in juvenile and adult facilities:

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

Mayor diBlasio first eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16 and 17- year olds, in response to studies that demonstrate the severe harm caused by the extensive use of solitary for children and adolescents:

NYTimes continues:

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

Then, diBlasio surprised some by extending the ban to people up to age 21:

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The ban on solitary confinement also includes the “ enhanced security units

The rule prohibits all inmates ages 18-to-21 — except those who commit serious, violent infractions — from being placed in either solitary or the enhanced supervision housing units.

Prison guards and other employees, along with the correction officer’s union oppose the new policy, and have threatened to sue the New York City Board of Corrections “for every guard assaulted.”