Solitary confinement use in New York City is an affront to civil liberties, New York values, and human rights standards. People are still dying in solitary, despite existing restrictions like the 30-day time limit on punitive segregation, the ban on punitive segregation for juveniles (16 and 17-year-olds) and for young adults (18 to 21-year-olds), and the ban on punitive segregation for low-level infractions. We are heartened that the Board acknowledges the irreparable harms the Department’s use of solitary confinement continues to cause people—despite the Board’s years-long efforts to restrict its use. However, the proposed rules still fail to close the many loopholes the Department continues to exploit to deny people due process, to subject individuals to months and years of isolation, and to deprive people of meaningful access to medical care.

For years, the Department has circumvented compliance with the restrictions that this Board has adopted through either variance requests or the use of alternative forms of isolation. The rules promulgated in 2015—although intended as a beneficial first step—permitted gross inconsistencies in enforcement and allowed abusive solitary practices to linger: abuses that the latest proposed rules still fail to prevent. In response to the Board’s regulation of “solitary confinement,” the Department has renamed forms of isolation to avoid restrictions—frustrating this Board’s efforts at reform, like “administrative segregation,” “enhanced supervision housing” and “separation status.”

The Board has a duty to ensure that individuals in the custody of the Department of Correction are treated humanely. To allow current prolonged isolation practices to continue violates this duty regardless of the label that the Department chooses to apply to them. Therefore, the Board should issue holistic regulations that apply to all forms of isolation to ensure actual reform rather than another round of restrictions limited to semantic labels. Otherwise, the proposed rules would continue to permit the Department to circumvent the Board’s attempts to curtail the abuses of punitive isolation in two ways.

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