In a significant move, the New York City Council has voted to approve legislation, Introduction 549-A, aimed at restricting the use of solitary confinement in city jails.
The council, led by public advocate Jumaane Williams, passed this bill with a 39-7 vote, contending that solitary confinement is inhumane.
Restrictions on Solitary Confinement
Under the newly approved measure, detainees who pose a “significant risk of imminent serious physical injury to themselves or others” may be placed into “de-escalation confinement” for a maximum of four hours following an episode of violence.
During de-escalation confinement, detainees are granted access to a tablet or device, allowing them to make phone calls outside of the facility and contact medical staff inside the facility.
Jail staff are required to conduct regular visual and aural observations of individuals in de-escalation confinement every 15 minutes.
Any health concerns must be promptly reported to medical or mental health staff, with detainees receiving medical attention if needed. Suicide prevention aides are also tasked with conducting check-ins with individuals in de-escalation confinement to ensure their well-being.
Furthermore, the bill mandates that incarcerated individuals in city custody must have at least 14 hours of out-of-cell time in shared spaces. They should be allowed to congregate with others and move freely within their housing area during this time, with access to education and programming.
Supporters and Their Arguments
Supporters of the bill have pointed to a recent report by the Columbia University Center for Justice, which revealed that the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) allowed inmates in restrictive housing to be locked up for nearly the entire day.
They argue that these conditions are detrimental to both the physical and psychological well-being of detainees, leading to increased violence and deaths in jails.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams praised the council’s decision, emphasizing that solitary confinement causes lasting trauma and affects not only the incarcerated but also their communities when they return home.
Public advocate Jumaane Williams labeled solitary confinement as “inhumane” and indefensible.
Opposition from Mayor Eric Adams
Despite the council’s approval, Mayor Eric Adams, a former captain of the New York Police Department, has signaled his potential veto of the bill.
He argues that its implementation would make the city less safe, slow down police response times, and divert law enforcement officers from addressing emergency incidents.
Mayor Adams clarified that his administration does not support solitary confinement in city jails but raised concerns about the bill’s potential consequences.
He mentioned that it might hinder the Department of Correction’s ability to protect individuals in custody and the predominantly Black and Brown union workers responsible for their safety.
Additionally, Mayor Adams noted that the bill could conflict with federal monitor directives.
Prospects and Possible Override
Despite the mayor’s reservations, more than two-thirds of the city’s legislative body has endorsed Introduction 549-A. This supermajority support means that the council could override any potential veto by the mayor.
The issue of solitary confinement has gained renewed attention due to incidents in city jails and concerns about its impact on inmates’ well-being.
The New York City Council’s vote to restrict the use of solitary confinement in city jails reflects a significant shift in the treatment of detainees and the criminal justice system’s approach to rehabilitation. While supporters argue that these measures will promote justice and safety, the mayor’s concerns highlight the ongoing debate surrounding the balance between inmate rights and public safety in the city’s correctional facilities.
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