Public Advocate To Introduce Bill To End Solitary Confinement In New York City

June 16th, 2022

Press Release

NEW YORK: New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams introduced legislation in the New York City Council today to truly ban solitary confinement in city jails. This bill marks the most comprehensive and concrete legislative effort to end the practice of solitary, which the United Nations defines as torture, on a citywide level. He announced the introduction at a City Hall press conference this morning– full video of the event is available here.

"Solitary confinement is torture, and for some New Yorkers– Kalief Browder, Layleen Polanco, Brandon Rodriguez, and too many others – it has been a death sentence," said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. "We owe it to them, and to all who have suffered in isolation, to prevent future harm by passing this bill and codifying a clear, concrete ban on solitary. With Rikers Island in crisis, presenting immediate danger to people on both sides of the bars, it’s absolutely critical that we move quickly to end this deeply damaging, ineffective practice, while allowing for the possibility of short-term separation to ensure safety. I’m proud to carry this legislation forward, and together with the movement that has helped New York see progress on this issue over many years, to finally, truly end solitary confinement in our city."

The new bill, Intro. 549, is based in the experiences of incarcerated individuals and the need for due process, defines and prohibits the punitive practice of solitary confinement, closing loopholes previously used by the Department of Correction (DOC) to continue solitary in all but name. It allows and establishes strict guidelines for any temporary and time-specified separation in specific instances while preventing the isolation of solitary and the harm that it brings. Its introduction comes amid an ongoing crisis on Rikers Island, where six people have lost their lives in 2022, and as a federal court has required the administration to make immediate, urgent reforms.

Under the legislation, “The department shall not place an incarcerated individual in a cell, other than at night for sleep for a period not to exceed eight hours in any 24-hour period or during the day for count not to exceed two hours in any 24-hour period, unless such confinement is necessary to de-escalate immediate conflict that has caused injury or poses a specific, serious and imminent danger to a person’s safety.”

This ban builds on 2020 legislation which received a hearing but was never brought to a vote. This new bill from Public Advocate Williams – while similar in many respects – clarifies many components critical to functionally ending solitary as we know it by expanding definitions, delineating a process for appealing DOC decisions, and granting an incarcerated individual due process rights not previously afforded. It establishes clear guidelines and a framework to implement the prohibition of solitary confinement while allowing DOC to separate incarcerated individuals when needed.

As it is introduced today, the bill is co-sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera, who chairs the Committee on Criminal Justice, as well as Council Members Tiffany Cabán, Crystal Hudson, Julie Won, Lincoln Restler, and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

Solitary confinement is torture. It causes significant and irreparable harm, and is seen as one of the most alarming and inconspicuous domestic human rights issues in U.S. prisons today. The lack of meaningful daily social interactions can lead to loneliness and irreversible trauma, and solitary confinement causes lifelong psychological, emotional, and physical damage.

Solitary’s impact is even greater on individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses and increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. It disproportionately affects Black and Latinx people, young people, and people with mental health needs, as well as LGBTQ+ and TGNCNBI people.

In New York City, solitary confinement can be a death sentence. Carina Montes, Jason Echeverria, Kalief Browder, Bradley Ballard, Layleen Polanco, and Brandon Rodriguez have died because of their experiences with this inhumane practice.

The bill reinstates due process for any individual ultimately put in restrictive housing under the conditions permitted, establishing an in-court hearing process and notification of the incarcerated person and their legal representatives. It does allow for the usage of emergency lock-ins in certain, specific situations, and permits exceptions when harm may be present.

It clearly and strictly defines terms such as restrictive housing, cell, and out of cell, specifies the timeframe a person can be held in that cell, requires medical staff check-ups every 15 minutes a person is alone in their cell, and prohibits restraints on people under 22 years of age.

The legislation, which further requires extensive reporting on the use of restrictive housing, would be enacted 60 days after passage. Read the full bill here.

"Too many lives have been lost due to solitary confinement and other horrific conditions on Rikers Island," said Victor Pate, #HALTsolitary Campaign Co-Director. "The City Council must pass legislation to truly end torture and solitary confinement. The city continues to violate its own minimum standards and the state HALT Solitary Confinement law. Now is the moment for the City Council to act."

"It is our duty to protect, defend, and fight for the human rights of people who have been deprived of their liberty," said Darren Mack, Co-Director at Freedom Agenda. "The Department of Correction's blatant violations of the Board of Corrections minimum standards and state law is unrelenting and shameful. Now is the time for this City Council to take action and end solitary confinement in New York City."

"What is happening on Rikers Island is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe," said Tahanee Dunn, Director of the Prisoners Rights Project at The Bronx Defenders. "By any name, solitary confinement is torture. We must put a stop to it once and for all. We urge the City Council to pass legislation ending this shameful practice immediately."

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