New York State has banned the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 18 years old, and will set limits on the use of isolation throughout the penal system, according to the state’s department of corrections.
The new policy, announced Wednesday, comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in December 2012, which alleged that the state was “arbitrarily sentencing tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals to months and years of extreme isolation and solitary confinement for alleged infractions that often present no threat to prison safety.”
Psychologists and human rights advocates have become increasingly concerned about the long-term psychological impact of solitary confinement, especially for young people. In 2009, New Yorker writer Dr. Atul Gawunde asked “Is long-term solitary confinement torture?”, and a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch stated that “Experts assert that young people are psychologically unable to handle solitary confinement with the resilience of an adult. And, because they are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said that the new policy would establish a presumption against isolation for pregnant inmates and create an alternative program for inmates with developmental disabilities.
“These are important reforms that will make the disciplinary practices in New York’s prisons more humane, and ultimately, our state’s criminal justice system more fair and progressive, while maintaining safety and security,” said Annucci.
The ACLU says it will suspend its lawsuit against New York State's prison system.