Agreement reached to reform NYS’ use of solitary confinement

Map of New York State
New Limits on Solitary Confinement

Under a new legal agreement, announced February 19, the New York State Department of Community Corrections will create “unprecedented” limits on its use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons for people with disabilities, as well as for youth, pregnant women and other inmates.

“Comprehensive reform to the use of extreme isolation is about reaffirming our most fundamental values, and it is also about smart, progressive reforms that make our communities and our prisons safer,” said Taylor Pendergrass, lead counsel in the case for the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a news release.

Although many of the details are broad, the 12-page stipulation requires the state to create an alternative program to solitary confinement specifically for people with disabilities, called Correctional Alternative Rehabilitation (CAR) program. This program must be implemented in the next three months.

In New York State, as many as 3,800 prisoners are locked in solitary confinement on any given day. These inmates are locked in special prison cells, called “special housing units,” for 22 to 24 hours for violating rules.

In December 2012, the NYCLU filed a class-action lawsuit against the state, accusing it of violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment for its solitary confinement practices.

In addition to the implementation of the CAR program, the agreement also requires the state to create sentencing guidelines which put limitations on how long inmates can be placed in solitary confinement for various infractions. Limits currently exist only for certain violent and drug offenses.

The state will also immediately end the use of solitary confinement for inmates under age 18 and for pregnant inmates.

The attorney will drop the lawsuit in two years if the state meets the agreement stipulations, according to the New York Times.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort in New York’s prisons,” said Donna Liberman, executive director of the NYCLU, in the news release.

The NYCLU  was assisted in the lawsuit by Morrison & Foerster, and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law professor Alexander A. Reinert.