Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the State Commission of Correction will issue new regulations to enhance the State's oversight of how solitary confinement is used in all local jails. The regulations and corresponding reporting guidelines will require jails to provide individuals in solitary confinement with at least four hours of time outside of their cell each day and report the following to the Commission: any decision that places an individual in solitary confinement for more than a month; if an individual younger than 18 is placed in restrictive housing; and if certain services are restricted or denied by the facility.
Significant improvements have already been achieved in the way Special Housing Units are managed in state prisons following an historic settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union. The regulations aim to improve the way these units are managed in local jails by strengthening reporting requirements, which will enhance Commission oversight by providing critical information for monitoring whether facilities are complying with the law.
"Amid public reports of misuse and abuse of solitary confinement, these new standards will inject much needed uniformity, accountability and transparency in the process for all local jails," Governor Cuomo said. "These new standards will help root out unacceptable behavior and build upon the landmark reforms put into place at state prisons, creating a consistent level of quality and fairness at all facilities across New York."
The Commission of Correction is a state agency governed by a three-member board appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. It sets minimum standards for the management of local correctional facilities and evaluates, investigates, and oversees local and state correctional facilities and police lock-ups to ensure compliance. In addition, the Commission monitors medical care provided by correctional facilities and investigates in-custody deaths; assists in developing new correctional facilities; and approves all construction and renovation of those facilities.
Now that the Commission has approved proposing the regulations, they must now be published in the State Register to allow for public comment, after which time they are subject to adoption. The regulations and corresponding reporting guidelines will require that:
- Inmates in solitary confinement must be allowed out of their cell for four hours every day, unless the jail's Chief Administrative Officer issues a written determination that doing so would jeopardize safety, security and good order of the facility. The Chief Administrative Officer must review that determination weekly until it is decided that the restriction is no longer necessary.
- Any time a pregnant inmate, or an individual under the age of 18 is placed in restrictive confinement, whether disciplinary reasons or otherwise, the decision must be reviewed by the Chief Administrative Officer on a weekly basis until it is decided that restrictive confinement is no longer necessary.
- Any time an individual is placed in solitary confinement for more than 30 days, it must be reported to the state Commission of Correction. If the individual is under the age of 18 or pregnant, restrictive confinement of any duration must be reported.
- Any time certain essential services are restricted or denied to any individual, it must be reported within 24 hours to the State Commission of Correction for review.
Further, the Commission will be amending its administrative manual to solicit data and information from local jails on how vulnerable populations are housed and treated in those facilities, with the goal of advancing additional reforms.
Commission Chairman Thomas Beilein said, "The Commission is committed to ensuring that correctional facilities operate in a safe, stable and humane manner. While disciplinary or administrative segregation may be necessary to maintain the safety of inmates, staff and the public, implementation of these measures must be the exception, not the rule. These regulations will allow the Commission to more effectively monitor local jails and further ensure that all individuals under custody, many of whom are awaiting trial and maintain the presumption of innocence, receive essential services and are treated with dignity and respect."
Nicholas Turner, President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice, said, "Ending the widespread use of solitary confinement and other methods of segregation - which disproportionately impact young people, people with mental illness, and people of color - is critical for both prison and jail safety and the public safety of the communities to which people will return. We applaud efforts made by correctional agencies and other stakeholders in New York, such as the New York State Commission of Correction, and across the country that are actively working to reduce its use."
These regulations build on the progress that has been achieved through the historic settlement that New York reached with the New York Civil Liberties Union under Governor Cuomo's leadership in December 2015. The settlement resulted in a multi-year implementation of meaningful reforms to how the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision manages its Special Housing Units. In less than two years, the Department has reported a 24 percent reduction in the number of inmates serving sanctions in special housing and a decrease of 16 percent in the average length of stay of an inmate in a Special Housing cell.
Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has made improving the State's criminal and youth justice systems a priority. The Governor not only led the successful effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 earlier this year, but his Work for Success Initiative has helped over 18,000 formerly incarcerated people find work upon their release. Additionally, Governor Cuomo formed the State's first Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration in 2014 to address obstacles formerly incarcerated people face upon re-entering society. Since its launch, the Council has helped spur a number of changes to improve re-entry ranging from adopting "Fair Chance Hiring" principles in state agencies to issuing guidance that forbids discrimination at New York-financed housing based on a conviction alone.