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NYC Council approves bill banning solitary confinement in city jails

Over the objections of Mayor Eric Adams, New York City lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday meant to ban solitary confinement in the city’s jails.

Associated Press

Dec 21, 2023, 11:05 AM

Updated 208 days ago


Over the objections of Mayor Eric Adams, New York City lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday meant to ban solitary confinement in the city’s jails.
Adams, a Democrat, had urged the City Council to reject the bill, arguing it will make jails more dangerous for both inmates and staff. But the measure was overwhelmingly approved and has enough supporters on the council to overrule a potential veto from the mayor.
The bill places a four-hour limit on isolating inmates who pose an immediate risk of violence to others or themselves in “de-escalation” units. Only those involved in violent incidents could be placed in longer-term restrictive housing, and they would need to be allowed out of their cells for 14 hours each day and get access to the same programming available to other inmates.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the legislation, argued Wednesday that solitary confinement amounts to torture for those subjected to lengthy hours in isolation in small jail cells.
He and other supporters, including prominent members of New York's congressional delegation, have pointed to research showing solitary confinement, even only for a few days, increases the likelihood an inmate will die by suicide, violence or overdose. It also leads to acute anxiety, depression, psychosis and other impairments that may reduce an inmate’s ability to reintegrate into society when they are released, they said.
“This is about safety at Rikers,” Williams said, referring to New York's infamous island jail complex. “If we want something different, we need to try something different.”
The vote comes as the city faces a possible federal takeover of Rikers in order to curb violence at the facility, not to mention a long-gestating city plan to close the complex outright. It also comes after California’s legislature passed legislation last year to restrict segregated confinement in prisons and jails, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Solitary confinement at Rikers gained national attention after the death of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who spent three years at the jail — nearly half of it in solitary — awaiting a trial that never came. Browder was freed but killed himself at age 22. His case led the city to eventually end the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds.
A report released by the Columbia University Center for Justice on Wednesday said that while the city Board of Correction, which oversees city-run jails, recently limited de-escalation confinement to six hours, some inmates have been locked up for far longer, even for days.
Inmates in restrictive housing can be locked up for 23 to 24 hours a day, according to the report, which urged City Council members and the mayor to support the bill.
After the vote, Adams declined to say whether he'd veto the measure, saying his legal team was still reviewing it.
In a televised interview ahead of the vote, he took specific aim at a provision of the bill that requires an inmate be granted a hearing before being placed in solitary confinement.
“What City Council is saying is while they’re in jail if they commit an assault on someone, an inmate or a correction officer, before we place them into punitive segregation, we need to allow them to have a trial of due process,” Adams told WNYW. “That makes no sense.”
The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the union representing staff in the city’s jails, also railed against the bill, as did the conservative Common Sense Caucus of the council.
Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, who co-chairs the caucus, said the proposal would “essentially take away a vital tool our correction officers have to keep everyone safe.”
Adams, a former NYPD captain, also slammed another council proposal approved Wednesday dealing with police officers.
That bill requires the NYPD publicly report on all investigative stops conducted by officers, including relatively low-level encounters with civilians. Police are currently only required to fill out reports following “reasonable suspicion” stops, where an officer has the legal authority to search and detain someone.
The mayor warned that the expanded reporting would only serve to slow down police response times and divert officers from quickly responding to emergencies.
“In every City Council district in this city, our officers will be forced to spend more time in their cars and on their phones, and less time walking the streets and engaging with New Yorkers,” he said in an emailed statement.

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