New York State has agreed to sweeping changes that will curtail the widespread use of solitary confinement to punish prison infractions, according to court papers filed on Wednesday. Under the agreement, New York becomes the largest prison system in the United States to bar the use of solitary confinement for disciplining prisoners under 18, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the three prisoners whose lawsuit led to the agreement.
Under the new rules, inmates held in isolation in local jails must be provided with at least four hours outside of their cells each day. In addition, local jail officials would have to notify the state when a prisoner who is pregnant or under the age of 18 is placed in solitary, or whenever an inmate is held in seclusion for more than a month.
“Amid public reports of misuse and abuse of solitary confinement, these new standards will inject much needed uniformity, accountability and transparency in the process for all local jails,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who pushed for the changes.
New York already is working to reduce the use of solitary in state correctional facilities under a class action settlement in the case of an inmate who alleged he was improperly placed in solitary. The New York Civil Liberties Union also sued to challenge the state’s use of isolation. The new standards will only apply to local city and county jails.