Gov. Chris Christie on Monday rejected a bill that would have prohibited solitary confinement in state prisons, calling it an irrelevant piece of legislation.
“This is not a bill,” he said in a statement. “It is [an] ill-informed, politically motivated press release by a prime sponsor who proves once again, that he has no idea about law enforcement or what is being done by the very department he proposes to further regulate.”
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a member of the Legislature since 1978, said he can’t recall a governor singling out a lawmaker in a veto statement like that before.
There’s an apparent dispute over the definition of isolated confinement.
Christie says it was his administration that ended punitive confinement as a policy, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from pursuing the legislation anyway.
“Why would the facts ever interfere with the sponsors’ political agenda?” Christie asked in the statement.
Lesniak said that the governor has “his head in the sand on this one” and that the state uses “restrictive housing,” which in practice amounts to isolated housing.
Christie said placement in those units is carefully considered and an inmate may be segregated from a prison’s general population primarily for medical reasons. All inmates, regardless of housing status, have access to social services as well as medical, dental and mental health services, the governor said.
Lesniak’s bill called for prohibiting solitary conferment except in cases in which there was a reasonable cause to think the inmate posed a substantial risk.
The bill also required a medical and mental health evaluation before an inmate could be placed in solitary confinement.
Lesniak said the bill was needed because solitary confinement causes mental health problems along with anger and resentment that make successful re-entry into society difficult.
Christie also took action on 16 other measures, signing 15 and vetoing one.
Among the other bills he signed, he enacted legislation requiring the state’s correctional facilities to provide inmates with prescription medication for chronic conditions that existed before incarceration.
He also signed resolutions designating the third weekend in October as Shuck, Sip and Slurp Weekend and one requiring the attorney general make a plan for putting out Amber and Silver alerts on social media.