New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged Monday to stop using solitary confinement in the city’s jail system, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move is a significant advancement in the fight for criminal-justice reform.
What We Know:
- Mayor de Blasio stated that inmates with certain underlying medical conditions, including seizures and heart, lung, and kidney disease, will no longer be held in restrictive housing, “effective immediately.”
- De Blasio and Board of Correction Chair Jennifer Jones Austin said the city has formed a working group to eliminate punitive-segregation practices. The board, an oversight committee that sets rules and standards for the Department of Correction, will vote on recommendations from the four-person panel this fall.
- “Today is a new day,” said Stanley Richards, the head of the newly formed working group. “It’s the first time we’ve heard the mayor say he wants to end solitary confinement.”
- “New York City is a national leader in correction reform,” New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement Monday. “We have done more to limit the use of punitive segregation than almost any jail system in America.”
- The decision comes a week after de Blasio said he would discipline 17 corrections officers involved in the death of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx transgender woman who suffered a fatal seizure inside a Rikers Island jail cell last June. Ms. Polanco was placed in restrictive housing for nine days, against doctors’ orders.
- This incident was not the first time Rikers has been under fire. Kalief Browder spent three years in Rikers without conviction, wrongly accused, stuck because he could not afford $3,000 bail. He committed suicide after his release in part due to the violence and mental anguish he suffered from stints in solitary confinement.
- Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice set limits on the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, specifically that youth under 18 years of age should never be held in solitary. President Obama himself published an op-ed on solitary in The Washington Post, referring specifically to Kalief Browder.
- Under the former president’s direction, legislation was passed in California, Colorado, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., to limit the use of solitary for young people.
- The following graph shows states with the most prisoners in solitary confinement:
- In 2017, a PBS Frontline story determined that there were over 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement. Of those male prisoners, 45% were Black.
Mayor de Blasio’s move is a significant step as New York City officials and public figures across the country have been reevaluating policing practices and the criminal justice system following the death of George Floyd.