March 01, 2015

Solitary Confinement

The Board of Correction for New York City approved a plan in January to amend the Minimum Standards relating to facilities operated by the city’s Department of Correction. The plan eliminates the use of solitary confinement immediately for 16- to 17-year- old prisoners and those with serious mental or physical disabilities or conditions, and beginning in January 2016 for those who are 18 to 21 years old. The approved plan also would create “Enhanced Supervision Housing” (ESH) in New York City jails for the most violent inmates. Commenting on the proposed rules in December 2014, the ABA applauded the efforts of the board and the Department of Correction to develop rules aimed at promoting rehabilitation and humane conditions in New York City jails and providing safe and humane institutional responses to the violence among some inmates at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex. The association expressed concerns, however, about broad language for ESH entry and exit. The final rules, which were adopted by a unanimous 7-0 vote, address some of the ABA’s concerns, including requiring, as a basis for ESH placement, specific findings of an inmate’s participation in dangerous gang-related activity, repeated assaults, or serious or persistent violence. In the comments, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman highlighted the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice on the Treatment of Prisoners, which contain specific guidance on the use of prolonged isolation and apply to all prisoners in adult correctional facilities, including jails. The standards regarding segregation and solitary confinement, he said, center around a core ideal: “Segregated housing should be for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable and consistent with the rationale for placement and with the progress achieved by the prisoner.”

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