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New York eyes new solitary confinement rules after lawmakers failed to pass legislation

2019-08-29

27-year-old transgender woman Layleen Polanco

ALBANY — New York jail officials have proposed changes to the state's approach to solitary confinement.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision unveiled a plan to phase in a 30-day cap on the practice over the next three years and bar the use of solitary for pregnant women and people with disabilities in state prisons.

The new rules, first reported Wednesday by the New York Law Journal, are subject to a 60-day public comment period before they become finalized.

Despite advocates and activists inundating the Capitol at the close of the legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have further curtailed the use of solitary. Gov. Cuomo opposed the bill, arguing that it would be too expensive, and a compromise allowing the state to set new rules was reached.

DOCCS predicts the overhaul will cost the state about $69 million in next year’s budget and $35 million in ensuing years.

Under the proposed rules, new types of prison units would be used to isolate prisoners from the general population without sending them to solitary.

Solitary confinement would only be used if an inmate’s behavior violates institutional rules and poses an “unreasonable risk” to the health, safety, or security of staff or other inmates, the New York Law Journal noted.

Advocates for reform say the changes don’t go far enough and cited Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died in June while in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, as an example of the dangers of solitary confinement.

“The proposed regulations fall far short of what is needed to truly end the torture of solitary confinement and would leave many vulnerable New Yorkers behind,” the #HALTsolitary campaign said in a statement. “The regulations would permit people to be locked in solitary for lengths that amount to torture under the United Nations standards, and people could be placed indefinitely in alternative units that may prove to be the sort of solitary by another name that took the life of Layleen Polanco.”