September 7, 2017

The use of solitary confinement has begun to drop considerably in New York State, according to a report from the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

The progress was achieved in the first year of a five-year settlement agreement negotiated between DOCCS and Professor Alex Reinert of Cardozo School of Law, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Morrison & Foerster.

“The progress over the past year is encouraging, and is an important step towards achieving significant reform,” said Professor Reinert. “For decades, the use of solitary in New York and other states has gone essentially unchecked, causing significant harm in its wake. We are hopeful that, when fully implemented, this settlement will demonstrate that profound institutional change is possible without sacrificing safety and security.”

The reforms are a result of Peoples v. Annucci, a 2012 lawsuit brought by the NYCLU with Professor Reinert and pro bono co-counsel Morrison & Foerster, which challenged the system-wide policies and practices governing solitary confinement in New York State. A settlement between the plaintiffs and the state, approved by a federal judge in April 2016, paved the way towards a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s use of solitary confinement in which the state committed to providing less isolating and more rehabilitative conditions in regular solitary units. The state must also open alternative units with meaningful programming that should eventually house a large portion of prisoners facing long-term disciplinary confinement.

Additional provisions include eliminating the use of solitary confinement as punishment for minor violations and abolishing several of solitary’s most dehumanizing features, including serving inmates inedible food known as “the loaf.”

Professor Reinert is the Director of the Center for Rights and Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law/Yeshiva University. He has a long career as an advocate for people confined in prisons and jails, beginning as an associate at a small civil rights law firm, Koob & Magoolaghan, where he litigated on behalf of prisoners in New York State and post-September 11 detainees held in federal detention, and continuing after he joined the Cardozo faculty.  He now writes and teaches in the area of prisoners’ rights, while continuing to participate in landmark litigation like the Peoples case.

For more information, read the DOCCS annual report.