Solitary Confinement Reform a Time-Sensitive Issue

Solitary Confinement Reform a Time-Sensitive Issue

Shiva Darshan, Staff Writer

In January of 2015, New York City’s Board of Corrections announced landmark reforms to solitary confinement protocol, referred to as “punitive segregation” by the city. The reforms limited sentences and banned the practice on inmates under the age of 21 in order to refocus resources towards rehabilitation. The Board was ahead of most of the country in instituting these reforms, preceding even the President’s changes to solitary confinement within the federal corrections system. Yet over a year and a half after these reforms were implemented, the Department of Corrections has yet to put them in place.

Punitive segregation is one of most traumatic experiences people can be subjected to in prisons and jails. The practice can have particularly harmful effects on brain development in young adults. Prolonged isolation can lead to depression and alienation. In addition to the tremendous toll solitary confinement takes on inmates, especially juveniles and those with preexisting mental illnesses, there is little to no evidence that punitive segregation helps to maintain control of facilities or reduce violence. Though the DOC has called the practice a “meaningful tool,” there is no correlation between increased time spent in solitary confinement and reductions in violence.

In 2015, the BOC gave a one-year deadline for the DOC to put the new measures in place. Yet that deadline came and went with little result. In January of 2016, the DOC asked for an extension. That extended deadline again came and went. The day after the deadline passed, a letter was sent to the Board asking for another emergency extension. The DOC went on to copy and paste the letter another five times asking for more extensions to implement the Board’s reforms. A final request for a six-month extension was ultimately shortened to three months to institute the reforms.

After 19 months, the DOC remains vague in its weekly reports about how it intends to eliminate punitive segregation for young adults. Only four young adults remain in punitive segregation at the young men’s jail on Rikers Island as of August 29. The Chief of Department has approved all punitive segregation sentences to young adults requested since the Department has gotten its most recent extension. The repeated requests for extensions indicate a lack of motivation to carry out the Board’s reforms.

It is time that the Board of Corrections puts its foot down and ends punitive segregation. The Department of Correction’s latest extension expires the day of the Board’s October meeting. The Board must pressure the Department into compliance before then or demand the Department’s higher-ups be removed and replaced with new leaders willing to follow through on these promised reforms.  

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Email Shiva Darshan at [email protected]