New York City on Wednesday voted to ban solitary confinement in city jails on the grounds that the practice has caused psychological harm and led to increased death and violence in these institutions.
“The [City] Council has taken historic strides to advance justice and safety by banning solitary confinement and improving police transparency,” Speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement. “The physical and psychological harm caused by solitary confinement leads to increased death and violence in jails, endangering those incarcerated, as well as correction officers and staff.”
Under current rules, jail officials can punish violent inmates by isolating them in a cell for up to 23 hours a day for up to 60 days straight for the most serious infractions.
The new rules will allow a detainee to be placed into “de-escalation confinement” for up to four hours after an episode of violence, with wellness checks by jail staff every 15 minutes.
The bill also allows any detainee found to have committed a serious infraction to be transferred from a jail’s general population to restrictive housing for up to 60 days in a single year. But the detainee cannot be isolated in a cell away from shared areas for more than 10 hours a day.
The bill has seen wide support from public defender groups, prison reform advocates and families of people who have died in custody on Rikers Island.
Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate and the bill’s prime sponsor, likened isolation to “torture.” He noted that many Rikers Island inmates suffer from mental health issues that are exacerbated by prolonged isolation.
The legislation has been opposed by Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, the New York City Police Department, and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.
Mayor Adams, a former police captain, has been trying to avoid a federal takeover of the violence-plagued jail complex on Rikers Island.
The labor union representing the city’s jail guards has opposed the legislation, saying it will make it more difficult to protect jail workers from violence by detainees.
The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association has said that, even with the current punitive segregation rules in place, there were more than 6,000 episodes of detainees assaulting jail guards in the last three years, including 50 cases of sexual assault.
Mayor Adams has already vowed to veto the bill. The council has promised to overrule any veto, which requires the vote of at least two-thirds of its members. Thirty-nine lawmakers voted to pass the bill, and seven opposed.
Fox News’ Anders Hagstrom contributed to this report.
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