New York City Council Passes Ban on Most Uses of Solitary Confinement in City Jails

The New York City Council approved a measure on Wednesday that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in city jails, branding the practice as “inhumane.” Introduction 549-A, introduced by public advocate Jumaane Williams, passed the council with a 39-7 vote. The measure permits the placement of detainees into “de-escalation confinement” for a maximum of four hours, provided they pose a “significant risk of imminent serious physical injury to themselves or others.”

Detainees in de-escalation confinement must have access to a tablet or device, allowing them to make phone calls and contact medical staff. Visual and aural observation of the individual is also mandated every 15 minutes, with strict protocols for any health concerns. Furthermore, incarcerated individuals in city custody must have at least 14 hours of out-of-cell time in shared spaces and access to education and programming.

Supporters of the measure reference a recent report by the Columbia University Center for Justice, which revealed that inmates in restrictive housing can be locked up for 23 to 24 hours a day in units labeled as general population or involuntary protective custody. The measure also caps the time an incarcerated person can spend in restrictive housing at 60 days in any 12-month period.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams applauded the measure, emphasizing the physical and psychological harm caused by solitary confinement. Public advocate Mr. Williams described solitary confinement as “inhumane” and “indefensible,” detailing the lasting trauma it inflicts on individuals. Mayor Eric Adams, a retired captain of the New York Police Department, has signaled opposition to the bill, stating that it would make the city less safe, diverting law enforcement officers from responding to emergency incidents.

The mayor’s administration does not support solitary confinement, but it views the bill as a step in the wrong direction, raising potential conflicts with directives from the federal monitor. However, a supermajority of the council has signed the measure, indicating its potential to override any veto. Critics argue that solitary confinement has been linked to deaths at Rikers Island and other New York City prisons and are supportive of the new restrictions.

Moreover, a previous attempt to ban solitary confinement across New York’s prisons failed in 2019, with opposition from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, citing safety concerns. The recent measure is expected to improve conditions for incarcerated individuals and address the abusive nature of solitary confinement in city jails.

The issue has sparked renewed awareness in recent years, with heightened scrutiny on the prolonged use of solitary confinement. The passing of the measure is seen as a significant step towards addressing the inhumane treatment of incarcerated individuals, with efforts to provide better utilization of the criminal justice system and reduce the harmful impact of solitary confinement on those affected.


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