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De Blasio Vows to End Solitary Confinement in NYC Jails

The mayor also announced restrictions on the use of solitary confinement on individuals with certain underlying medical conditions effective immediately.

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What to Know

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered effective immediately that city jails end the use of solitary confinement for some inmates with underlying medical conditions as part of a broader push to end the practice altogether.
  • It comes on the heels of the New York City's Department of Correction plan to discipline more than a dozen officers for their conduct related to the death of Layleen Polanco, who died in solitary confinement at Rikers Island in 2019 due to a seizure.
  • Additionally, de Blasio also announced that the city will be forming a four-person panel to look into how to effectively end solitary confinement.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered effective immediately that city jails end the use of solitary confinement for some inmates with underlying medical conditions as part of a broader push to end the practice altogether.

The mayor made the announcement Monday during his daily press briefing. It comes on the heels of the New York City's Department of Correction plan to discipline more than a dozen officers for their conduct related to the death of Layleen Polanco, who died in solitary confinement at Rikers Island in 2019.

"Layleen Polanco should not have been in Rikers to begin with," de Blasio said. "Layleen Polanco should not have been in solitary confinement and Lord knows she deserves justice. Her family deserves justice. The transgender community deserves justice. We have to right the wrong. We can’t bring her back but we can make change so that no one else goes through such a tragedy. There has been accountability: 17 correction officers have been disciplined, four have been suspended without pay and this is just the start of the disciplinary process. But we need to make changes immediately in how people who are incarcerated in our jail system are handled and we need to make sure they are safe."

Polanco, 27, died in solitary confinement on June 7 of last year after an epileptic seizure, according to a medical examiner’s report.

On Monday, de Blasio announced that effective immediately people with certain underlying medical conditions will not be subject to punitive segregation or solitary confinement.

"There have already been some prohibitions in place, for example for serious mental illness or pregnancy. We are expanding the list," the mayor said.

Individuals who are incarcerated and have the following underlying medical conditions will not be subject to punitive segregation or solitary confinement:

  • Asthma
  • Seizure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Transplant status
  • Treatment with blood thinners
  • Disability (wheelchair, walker, blind or deaf)

Additionally, de Blasio announced that the city will be forming a four-person panel to look into how to effectively end solitary confinement because "we have proven that we can keep jails safe with much less use of solitary confinement, punitive segregation" citing the need for a safer environment for both inmates and jail employees.

"We are doing that literally starting today. But we have to go further. So let's take the next step. Let's end solitary confinement all together," he said.

"I’m appointing a four-person working group and they will get to work on a plan to end punitive segregation, to end solitary confinement in New York City, once and for all," de Blasio said. "This group will have a simple mission. A simple mandate. Find a way to end solitary confinement and tell us the things that it is going to take. Because it will take other measures, other approaches and innovations to keep everyone safe. I’m expecting a report back in the fall with whatever recommendations are there. Then we’ll get to work on making it happen. Because we can make this change in New York City."

The group will be made up of representatives from the Board of Correction, Department of Correction, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association and a formerly incarcerated individual.

David Shanies, an attorney for Polanco’s family, previously said that while the discipline of the corrections officers was welcome, the need is for institutional accountability.

“Suspending or even firing individual employees will not save the next Layleen from dying,” he said in a statement. “We need to treat trans women as women. We need to end abusive solitary confinement. We need to treat people in jail as humans deserving safety and dignity.”

Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Investigation, tasked with overseeing city employees and contractors, and the Bronx District Attorney's Office concluded that staff members at Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center were not criminally responsible for Polanco’s death, and declined to press charges.

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