NYC Board of Correction votes to end solitary confinement in city jails

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York City Board of Correction, an independent oversight board for the city's jail system, voted unanimously Tuesday to end solitary confinement in the city's jails.

"New York City is going further than any jail system in America to ban solitary confinement once and for all," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Through our work with our Board of Correction, we have found a plan that will provide a safe and humane environment for those who are incarcerated and officers alike."

The new disciplinary system fundamentally changes the way the Department of Correction responds to violence committed by people in custody, ensuring accountability and safety in a more humane and effective manner.

The rules ends solitary confinement, a long-practiced form of restrictive housing where people are locked in their cells for 20 to 24 hours each day, and replaces it with a new alternative disciplinary model, the Risk Management Accountability System (RMAS).

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"This rule ends solitary confinement in the New York City jail system once and for all, replacing it with a system that balances the need for safety in the jail and the need to provide the care and support to address behaviors for all concerned," Board of Correction Chair and CEO and Executive Director of FPWA Jennifer Jones Austin said. "These reforms are necessary for a safer and more humane jail system, for people in custody and staff."

RMAS is a two-level progression model that includes:
--Attorney Representation at the infraction hearing and throughout the process
--Minimum 10 hours out of cell, socializing with at least one other person
--A strong presumption of progression from Level 1 to Level 2 in 15 days, and out of Level 2 in 15 days
--The ability for the Department to extend placement in RMA only when necessary; extension must be documented with a clear threat to safety; person in custody has ability to appeal with attorney representation
--Individualized behavioral support plans
--Steady, experienced case managers
--Hours of daily programming, including required therapeutic programming in space outside the dayroom space; and
--Daily rounding by health and mental health staff
--Post-RMAS, step-down Restorative Rehabilitation Unit with 14 hours of lock out, full access to Minimum Standards, and intensive programming

The new disciplinary model is the product of a public engagement process that included extensive discussions with and feedback from people with lived experience, families, staff, advocates, researchers, practitioners, and other experts locally and around the country.

The rule builds on reforms in 2015 that ended solitary confinement for 16- to 21-year-olds and people with serious mental illness and set strict limits on its use for everyone else.

In October 2019, the Board proposed rules to further restrict solitary confinement, but the vast majority of community members who testified and/or submitted written comments on the proposal -- including solitary survivors and their loved ones; mental health, criminal justice, legal, and human rights experts; elected officials; faith leaders; and community members -- said that new proposed limits were not enough and called for the immediate end to solitary confinement.

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The Board's new rule recognizes that solitary confinement creates significant risks of psychological and physical harm to people in custody.

In addition to ending solitary confinement, the rule:
--Fully ends the use of routine restraint desks.
--Requires the Department to use cells for de-escalation confinement after incidents, rather than intake areas.
--Limits scope of lockdowns to only housing areas that must be locked down.
--Requires regular and public reporting by the Department.
--Maintains the prohibition on placing people with serious mental illness in restrictive housing

The new model will go into effect in the fall of 2021. CLICK HERE to read the full "Adoption of rules" notice.

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