Long-term solitary confinement ends in New York State
After years of activism and political power shifts, New York State will end long-term solitary confinement in prisons and prisons.
The New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill limiting the use of the abusive practice to up to 15 consecutive days. The law also prohibits the use of solitary confinement for people with physical and mental disabilities, pregnant women, minors, and other groups of people. While this is an important step forward, the bill will not come into force until next March.
One of the legal requirements will focus on the mental health of people who are in solitary confinement. Prisons and prisons are tasked with reviewing the risk of suicide and setting up new rehabilitation units for prisoners who have to be away from the general population for more than 15 days.
Blacks and Latinx make up approximately 70 percent of the people in New York state prisons and represent more than four-fifths of those in solitary confinement, according to the Times.
State lawmakers across the country are being urged to end solitary confinement. Research has consistently shown that the practice increases the risk of self-harm and suicide, the post-discharge mortality rate, and the worsening of mental illness.
Here’s more background on how New York State has made progress in restricting the practice, according to The Times:
A major campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York began more than eight years ago. But these efforts had long failed in Albany.
In 2015, following a lawsuit, the state approved changes that included isolated improved living conditions.
A measure similar to the new law appeared to have passed in 2019 but ultimately died following a union push back and a veto threat from Mr Cuomo, who raised concerns about the large potential cost of implementing the changes. (Those projections were later disputed.) Instead, the governor agreed to make several less expansive administrative changes to change practice.
After the Democrats secured legislative superiority in last November’s elections that could override a governor’s veto, their efforts to pass the measure have been fruitful. In the past few weeks, activists held several rallies outside Mr. Cuomo’s Manhattan office. The measure was passed with great support by both chambers this month and some legislators threatened to move forward without Mr Cuomo’s signature.
On Wednesday evening, it remained unclear which aspects of the legislation could possibly be changed.
The story goes on
Of course, law enforcement officials’ unions are pushing against the law, saying it puts their officers at risk. There’s no real research to suggest that the use of solitary confinement actually changes behavior for the better – in fact, research shows the opposite is the case.
The most famous case of solitary confinement was the story of Kalief Browder. He took his own life after being released from Rikers Island after years in prison for a crime he never committed, awaiting trial that never took place.
It would be ideal for New York State to end the practice altogether, but these restrictions are a step forward towards eliminating solitary confinement for good.