NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City will move to stop punishing its inmates by placing them in solitary confinement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday, calling the practice a mistaken approach that only serves to set back rehabilitation of prisoners.
Corrections officials are proposing a trailblazing plan to replace solitary confinement and other restrictive forms of housing with more humane alternatives, as well as education and training, de Blasio said.
“We’re going to go farther than any jail system in America by creating positive alternatives,” the mayor said at a news briefing. “Working with our Board of Corrections, we found a plan that will work and that will provide a safe environment for those who are incarcerated and officers alike.”
The proposal follows the city’s move in 2015 to end solitary confinement for inmates aged 16-to-21 and for people with serious mental illness. The city said that had already contributed to an 81% decrease in use of the practice.
Those changes followed the death of Kalief Browder, a teenager from the Bronx borough accused of stealing a backpack who spent two of his three years at the infamous Rikers Island jail complex in solitary confinement. Two years after his release, Browder hanged himself in 2015.
“Imagine how much harm was done by all those years of unfettered use of solitary confinement,” de Blasio said.
The corrections board, which oversees the jail system, is proposing to replace solitary confinement on Nov. 1 with a three-level model of progressive discipline called a Risk Management Accountability System, the city said.
The proposal, which is subject to a public comment period, would allow those inmates at least 10 hours out of their cells, five hours of daily programming and support that includes case managers, individualized plans and periodic reviews, the city said.
The Legal Aid Society, which defends the city’s indigent criminal defendants, was mostly critical of the new proposal, calling it a “re-branding” that “replicates some of the most inhumane features of the current system,” including chaining inmates to desks all day.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)