The federal judge who was removed from the stop-question-and-frisk case for partiality has angered police again with her ruling Wednesday that New York prisons cannot subject children and expectant inmates to solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons.
District Judge Shira Scheindlin signed off on the agreement, which was prompted by a class action lawsuit challenging the state’s use of solitary confinement in 2011 by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc., said it was “simply wrong to unilaterally take the tools away from law enforcement officers who face dangerous situations on a daily basis.”
But the Department of Corrections said it will abide by the deal, which also calls for the first time to create a maximum limits on isolation lengths as part of sentencing guidelines.
Acting commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said it will bar the use of solitary confinement for disciplining prisoners under age 18 while also including a presumption for expectant inmates. It creates an alternative program for those who are developmentally disabled, he added.
NYCLU attorney Taylor Pendergrass said the measures were only the start of a two-year reassessment that will involve nationally recognized experts. The civil liberties group said in a 2012 study that New York has subjected thousands of prisoners to an average of 150 days of extreme isolation each year, while some served years or decades in solitary.
The NYCLU says there are about 3,800 inmates in solitary, out of a total population of about 55,000. California has about 4,000 inmates in solitary out of a prison population that is more than double the size of New York’s.
Pendergrass said that some experts say that solitary confinement as a punishment often worsens behavioral problems.
“When you put somebody in a concrete box for 24 hours a day, you really aren’t doing anything to modify where the misbehavior begins,” Pendergrass said.
The agreement means New York state becomes the largest prison system in the United States to ban the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure against prisoners under age 18.