New York Bans Solitary Confinement For Inmates Under 18

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York State Department of Community Corrections jointly announced a sweeping set of prison reforms Wednesday that will drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in the state. The new rules protect inmates who are pregnant or below the age of 18 from being placed in extreme isolation, making New York the largest state to ban solitary confinement for young prisoners. In addition, prisons will only be allowed to place developmentally disabled inmates in solitary confinement for a maximum of 30 days.

The effects of solitary confinement are brutal: A recent study suggested that even just a few days of extreme isolation can dramatically alter the shape of the brain, while a federal judge ruled last year that solitary confinement for the mentally ill constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The NYCLU estimates that roughly 3,800 New York prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 22 to 24 hours a day, with one hour a day allowed for exercise and no contact with other inmates permitted.

The agreement comes as the result of a class-action lawsuit filed by the NYCLU and former inmates. The NYCLU and the DOCC presented the new rules to the judge, Shira Scheindlin, requesting that she delay the litigation for two years while the prisons attempt to meet the new conditions. If the prisons successfully implement the new reforms within that time period, the lawsuit will be settled; if not, it will proceed.