Settlement Paves the Way for Historic Reforms in Solitary Confinement
February 19, 2014 – In a sweeping agreement in which Cardozo professor Alex Reinert served as co-counsel, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York State Department of Community Corrections announced an end to solitary confinement as used in New York State’s prisons for youth, pregnant inmates and developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged prisoners. New York remains one of only two states in the country to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in courts, but with this agreement it becomes the largest prison system in the United States to prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure against prisoners who are younger than 18.
“New York is taking a substantial step in the right direction, and we hope that it will ultimately join the many other states who have recognized that lengthy isolation sentences cause serious harm while accomplishing little if any of the goals of a rational corrections system,” said Professor Reinert.
The agreement secured by the class-action lawsuit, People v. Fischer, was the work of Professor Reinert, the NYCLU, and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster who were co-counsel on the case. The court settlement calls for two nationally recognized corrections experts to develop recommendations to reform the use of isolation cells, where approximately 3,800 prisoners are locked down daily for 22-24 hours as punishment for vioating prison rules. The agreement reflects a collaborative process between the NYCLU and the Department of Corrections to reduce the use of extreme isolation.
"New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort in New York’s prisons,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “By entering into this agreement, the Cuomo administration has shown that it has the vision to transform New York into a national leader in the movement toward alternatives to solitary confinement, and has prioritized the safety of prisoners, prison staff and New York’s communities.”
The case came a week after a conference at Cardozo School of Law on the use of solitary confinement for youth, and the release of a comprehensive report by the Cardozo Youth Justice Clinic calling for reforms and an end to isolation as punishment to youthful offenders, and replacing current practices with more theraputic model. The conference, sponsored by the Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender, featured keynote speaker Omar Mualimmak, who described what it was like to live for over 2,000 days in solitary confinement.