WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) applauded the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) decision to eliminate solitary confinement for incarcerated people age 21 and younger. The board also voted to immediately limit solitary confinement for all incarcerated people to no more than 30 days consecutively.
BOC unanimously passed the new rules at a Jan. 13 hearing.
This marks an important moment to build upon in the nationwide effort to end the use of solitary confinement.
The Rev. Laura Markle Downton, NRCAT director of U.S. prisons policy and program, said this is a significant move on the part of the New York City Board of Correction in two ways. “The new rules acknowledge the need to end long-term solitary confinement by placing limits on its use in all circumstances,” she emphasized, “and take seriously the developmental needs of youths and young people.”
This marks an important moment to build upon in the nationwide effort to end the use of solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture, according to Downton.
“As people of faith and interfaith leaders, we stand poised and ready to support these and additional changes to see that the use of torture and culture of violence are brought to an end once and for all in New York,” Downton said.
Road from punishment
“The road from a punishment approach to one of rehabilitation and restoration will be long, but these new rules mark an important step toward respect for human dignity and human potential,” said the Rev. Ron Stief, NRCAT executive director. “The faith community will be watching closely to see that these new rules are implemented effectively.”
These new rules mark an important step toward respect for human dignity and human potential.
NRCAT also called for strict monitoring of the addition of 250 restricted housing units in the form of Enhanced Supervision Housing.
In December, NRCAT joined the strong chorus of New York and national voices calling for the New York City BOC to take swift action to end the use of torture at the Rikers Island jail complex, where 75% of the people confined are pre-trial detainees who cannot afford to post bail. NRCAT submitted testimony to the BOC arguing for a treatment model that ends the use of solitary confinement.
NRCAT has been vocal in its opposition to solitary confinement on moral grounds. Last year, the organization submitted written testimony to Congress in advance of a hearing on solitary confinement at the federal level, “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences.”
In a 2012 report presented to the U.S. Human Rights Council, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez called for a universal prohibition of prolonged solitary confinement exceeding 15 days. He also called for a total ban on the use of solitary confinement for vulnerable populations including persons with mental disabilities and youths
Mendez found prolonged use of solitary confinement a form of torture due to the profound changes that happen to the human brain when subjected to extreme sensory deprivation and denial of all meaningful human contact.