NEW YORK — New York City jails have been ordered to stop the use of punitive segregation for people with underlying medical conditions, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Board of Correction Chair Jennifer Jones Austin announced Monday.
Punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, is a restrictive housing area where people are locked in their cells for 23 hours of the day as punishment for a violent offense, according to the Board of Correction.
“From closing Rikers Island to banning punitive segregation for people under the age of 22, we have reoriented our correction system to value human life and rehabilitation,” said de Blasio.
“Now with Jennifer at the helm of the Board and Stanley leading the working group, we will chart the course forward with the Board to ban punitive segregation altogether, making good on our commitment to creating jails that are fundamentally smaller, safer, and fairer.”
The order, which goes into effect immediately, excludes individuals with several underlying health conditions from being placed into any form of restrictive housing while in custody, the mayor said.
Conditions include asthma, seizures, kidney and liver disease, treatment with blood thinners, heart and lung disease and diabetes.
The mayor also announced the Board of Correction is also forming a working group with goals to find a path to eliminate punitive segregation in city jails altogether.
The move comes days after four Dept. of Correction staffers were suspended and more than a dozen were disciplined in the Rikers death of Layleen Polanco.
Polanco, 27, was found dead in her cell on June 7, 2019. Her cause of death was sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, according to the chief medical examiner.
She was arrested on April 13, and remained in jail because she could not afford to pay $500 bail, according to her family.
Polanco was placed in the jail’s restrictive housing unit days before her death, cleared by a Rikers doctor who was aware she suffered from a seizure condition, according to documents.
Her family claimed Polanco — who was transgender and suffered from epilepsy — was victimized because of her gender status.
Civil rights groups have said the case is an example of how the justice system can trap people of color, leading to devastating outcomes.