Solitary Confinement Is No More in NYC

NYC Mayor Eric Adams vows to veto City Council's ban on practice some call akin to torture
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2023 7:31 AM CST
Lawmakers in This City Just Banned Solitary Confinement
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/waaruchch)

Lawmakers on Wednesday banned most instances of solitary confinement in New York City, over the protests of the city's mayor. The City Council's 39-7 vote greenlit the ban, which allows for inmates to be placed in isolation for "deescalation" purposes for no more than four hours at a stretch, and only if inmates "pose an immediate risk of violence to others or themselves," reports the AP. Prisoners who actually engage in violent incidents can be placed in longer-term "restrictive housing," but those inmates would still be entitled to leave their cells for 14 hours each day and to receive services that other inmates are, per the legislation.

"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," City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams says, in a release. She adds, "When formerly incarcerated New Yorkers eventually return to their communities, the lasting trauma of solitary confinement follows them home, and affects us all as neighbors and members of a shared community." Critics of the practice, which typically involves isolating a prisoner in a tiny space for long stretches of time, have long slammed it as a form of torture (the UN agrees), with such consequences as depression, anxiety, and increased risk of an inmate's death by suicide, overdose, or violence.

The New York Times notes the racial disparities that are tied to the practice, also called punitive segregation: Black and Latino inmates are more often found in solitary than those of other races. One inmate often cited by detractors of solitary is Kalief Browder, arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and incarcerated at the city's famous Rikers Island complex. Browder spent three years at Rikers—where multiple people have died over the past decade after being placed in isolation—much of it in solitary. He died by suicide at the age of 22 in 2015, two years after his case was dismissed; the city nixed placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary due to Browder's case.

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Solitary confinement advocates like NYC Mayor Eric Adams, however, say getting rid of the practice will make prisons less safe. He says he'll veto the ban, but the numbers of those who approved of it on the City Council may quash Adams' plan. Indeed, the council's speaker on Wednesday vowed to override any veto he attempted. "This assault on public safety is just wrong," Mayor Adams, a former NYPD captain, said on Wednesday in an interview with WABC, blaming the "far left," per the Times. "There is a philosophical difference in this city, and the numerical minority is controlling the narrative." (More solitary confinement stories.)

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