NYC Board of Correction ends solitary confinement in city jails

June 26, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Rikers Island, where the New York City Board of Correction has adopted new rules to end solitary confinement in response to Local Law 42. Photo: Ted Shaffrey/AP
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The New York City Board of Correction has unanimously adopted new rules on Tuesday to end solitary confinement in city jails. 

This move comes in response to Local Law 42, passed by an overwhelming majority of the City Council, which mandates the elimination of solitary confinement beyond four hours and the implementation of alternative separation methods that have been proven to reduce violence and support inmate health.

“We thank the Board of Correction for doing the right thing by voting today to adopt their rules implementing Local Law 42,” said Victor Pate, co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign. “We appreciate the board recognizing that people in New York City’s jails must be treated more humanely. Now that the board and a supermajority of the City Council have spoken, it is time for the mayor and Department of Correction to implement the law and these rules to finally end solitary confinement and utilize alternative forms of separation proven to reduce violence and better protect people’s health.”

Solitary confinement has long been criticized for its detrimental effects on inmates, causing severe psychological and physical harm. Studies have shown that even short periods in solitary can lead to heightened risks of self-harm, mental illness, and death by suicide. The practice has also been disproportionately applied to Black and Brown inmates in NYC jails.

Local Law 42 aims to address these issues by enforcing a four-hour limit on solitary confinement for emergency de-escalation purposes. Following this period, inmates can be separated using alternative methods that focus on engagement and rehabilitation. These methods have been successfully implemented in programs like CAPS in NYC, the Merle Cooper Program in New York State and the RSVP program in San Francisco.

The law also includes stringent definitions to prevent the Department of Correction from rebranding solitary confinement under different names. It mandates that all inmates, apart from those in de-escalation confinement, have access to 14 hours of daily out-of-cell time and seven hours of group programming.

The City Council passed Local Law 42 with a 39-7 vote and later overrode a mayoral veto with a 42-9 vote, demonstrating broad support for the reform. 

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