New York will overhaul its system for placing prisoners in solitary confinement as part of a wide-ranging settlement that promises to dramatically reduce the number of isolated inmates.
The agreement between the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and three current and former inmates supported by the New York Civil Liberties Union will significantly reduce the number of violations that can lead to solitary confinement, as well as cut down on maximum isolation sentences while moving 1,100 currently isolated inmates into alternative programs.
Pending approval by a federal court, the settlement is the result to a 2011 civil lawsuit that claimed the state’s solitary-confinement system was unconstitutional.
“New York state has recognized that solitary confinement is not only inhumane but detrimental to public safety and has committed to changing the culture of solitary within state prisons,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU.
The agreement is the latest to come from long-term negotiations spurred by the original lawsuit, and represents significant changes to solitary confinement in one of the country’s largest prison system. A previous agreement had sketched out an end to sentencing pregnant women, juveniles and the developmentally disabled to isolation.
One of the plaintiffs who brought the original lawsuit, Tonja Fenton, is a former inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County who served 270 days in solitary confinement.
As it stands, prisoners placed in solitary housing units generally spend between 22 to 24 hours each day in a cell by themselves. Currently, about 4,000 inmates in New York state prisons are isolated from their fellow prisoners.
The deal is supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, both of which signed on to the settlement.
There was no immediate comment from the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, which represents the officers at the state’s prisons.
As part of the agreement, the various reforms will be implemented on a varying timetable, ranging from two months to three years depending on the changes.
Here’s the pending agreement: