The Settlement That Will Move 1,100+ NY Inmates Out of Solitary Confinement

By Kenrya Rankin Dec 18, 2015

The state of New York has reached a settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) that will reshape how the state uses solitary confinement. 

Per the agreement, about one quarter (1,100+) of the inmates current housed in solitary confinement (officially called “Special Housing Units, or “SHU”) will be moved to less isolated rehabilitative spaces. Those moved will largely be juveniles, people who have been there the longest, those with developmental disabilities, and those who need behavioral or drug therapy.

Moving forward, the state will be forced to narrow the infractions that can land an inmate in the SHU as well as how long they can be kept there. In addition, officers will no longer be allowed to withhold edible food as punishment, and the state must increase rehabilitative opportunities available in solitary. The settlement also requires the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to undergo de-escalation training, and provide access to telephone calls and reading materials. The settlement still needs to be approved by the courts, and it comes with a $62 million state commitment for implementation.

It arises out of Peoples v. Fischer, a lawsuit brought by three inmates—Leroy Peoples, Tonja Fenton and Dwayne Richardson—and has been three years in the making.

“New York State has recognized that solitary confinement is not only inhumane but detrimental to public safety and has committed to changing the culture of solitary within state prisons,” said NYCLU executive sirector Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “No prison system of this size has ever taken on such sweeping and comprehensive reforms to solitary confinement at one time. Today marks the end of the era where incarcerated New Yorkers are simply thrown into the box to be forgotten under torturous conditions as a punishment of first resort, and we hope this historic agreement will provide a framework for ending the abuse of solitary confinement in New York State.”

(H/t The Atlantic)