Solitary Confinement

A majority of City Council members plus the public advocate say they want to get rid of so-called punitive segregation — but some jail staff aren’t so sure.
People who survived solitary confinement at Rikers describe the horrific conditions and mental anguish that extreme isolation can cause. Until recently, New York City had nearly a thousand such “punitive segregation” cells.
Correction Department Commissioner Louis Molina wants to keep people in punitive segregation locked in their cells for longer — even as Rikers reformers are looking to end the practice entirely.
A new ‘Risk Management and Accountability System’ was all set to go, but following criticism from a federal monitor and reporting by THE CITY, the changes are on hold.
A fifth person this year died behind bars at Rikers Island on Wednesday morning — the first woman in three years — just hours after officials announced they were overhauling their last overhaul.
The City Council has still not introduced any measure to end solitary confinement in city jails despite a majority of members publicly opposing the practice. The public advocate’s office meanwhile has taken up the mantle and says a bill will be introduced in weeks.
A letter to the mayor-elect signed primarily by incoming Council members marked a preview of the dynamic between a band of rookie, mostly progressive lawmakers and Adams, a former cop whose crime-fighting promises helped get him elected.
“Enjoy the reprieve now!” the incoming mayor declared Thursday as he announced Louis Molina would head the Department of Correction. The family of Layleen Polanco, whose death at Rikers galvanized the anti-solitary movement, slammed Adams.
The sister of Layleen Polanco, whose 2019 jail death galvanized the movement to end isolating inmates, expressed her “disgust” for the mayor. De Blasio’s handpicked leader of the city jail oversight board also condemned his 11th-hour executive order.
Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi’s “comprehensive post-pandemic recovery” proposal also covers everything from cutting down on triple shifts for correction officers to fixing broken cell doors.
The city further limited isolation Tuesday — two years and a day after Layleen Polanco’s death on Rikers Island. But her sister and other inmate advocates are slamming de Blasio for not fully eliminating the practice.
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Incarceration reformer Vincent Schiraldi, appointed by de Blasio to run the troubled Correction Department, says he’d consider staying past Dec. 31. He wants to end the violence that’s plagued Rikers Island and other local lockups.
“All they did was change the name, and slightly, very slightly, changed a few things,” said Melania Brown, whose sister, Layleen Polanco, died in a solitary cell at Rikers Island in 2019.
An “emergency” petition by the Correction Department to put youths alone in cells for up to 17 hours a day comes nearly eight months after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to end solitary confinement for all inmates.
The Board of Correction now says a proposal, spurred by the death of Layleen Polanco at Rikers Island, will be out this month. But the City Council could beat them to it with a law.
Last year, the governor and legislative leaders proposed a 30-day limit on isolating prisoners. The deadline to adopt that rule just passed. Now it won’t be in place until at least 2023.
De Blasio cited the case of Layleen Polanco, whose death in isolation at Rikers Island last year galvanized the movement to stop the practice in New York and beyond.
The de Blasio administration pushed staff punishments Friday but has rejected more systemic changes to solitary confinement in New York City jails.
NYC’s jail oversight board also found that city jail housing policy for transgender inmates created “increased pressure” to house her in solitary, where she died last June.
Meanwhile, city jailers contend that locking people in isolation for 21 hours a day does not qualify as “solitary confinement.”
The city jails oversight body recommends “an immediate investigation” — citing “risk of radiation exposure” due to a lack of staff training.