New York agrees to solitary confinement reforms

The state of New York last month agreed to reform its solitary confinement policies and will ban the placement of vulnerable inmates – such as juveniles, pregnant women, and the mentally ill – in segregation.

Under the settlement reached with New York Civil Liberties Union on Feb. 19th, the state Department of Community Corrections will also ban the use of solitary confinement to discipline prisoners under the age of 18.

Two experts in corrections – Dr. James Austin and Eldon Vail – will develop reform recommendations, and the state will set limits to how long an inmate may be sentenced to solitary confinement because of the psychological damage caused by prolonged isolation.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resorts in New York’s prisons,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of NYCLU. “By entering into this agreement, the Cuomo administration has shown that it has the vision to transform New York into a national leader in the movement toward alternatives to solitary confinement, and has prioritized the safety of prisoners, prison staff and New York’s communities.”

New York holds approximately 3,800 inmates in solitary confinement. Currently, inmates in isolation stay in their cells for up to 23 hours a day and are denied educational programming.

Austin and Vail will issue their recommendations this spring. If the reforms reached under the settlement are not implemented within two years, the NYCLU may resume its lawsuit against the state.

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