In a unanimous decision of 7-0, the New York City Board of Corrections has approved a policy change to end solitary confinement for inmates ages 21 and under. This comes on the heels of the decision to end the practice for 16 and 17-year-old inmates back in September. Prior to Tuesday’s decision, the De Blasio administration had not indicated that it would seek any further reforms in the practice of isolating inmates. If this decision is implemented, it will take effect in January of next year and financing will have to be obtained for additional officers and clinical staff members.
In what has to be the first time anyone has called Rikers Island progressive, the New York Times says the decision “would place Rikers Island at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.”
Even the most innovative jails in the country use solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates over 18, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” Ms. Herrman said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”
Silent protesters gathered at the board meeting, holding signs that read, “ESHU = Torture/End Torture Now.” Many people consider solitary confinement to be a form of torture, and science seems to agree. As far back as 1890, the detrimental effects of the practice were recognized by the powers that be. That year in an opinion focused on a Philadelphia prison, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller wrote:
A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.
The decision to not afflict young adults of a certain age to that kind of treatment will satisfy some — but for many it will be far from enough.
(Photo: Michael Coghlan)