NEW YORK — The New York City Board of Correction voted to end solitary confinement in city jails on Tuesday.
The restrictive housing practice long panned by criminal justice activists will be replaced by an alternative disciplinary model called the Risk Management Accountability System (RMAS).
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who unveiled plans for solitary confinement reforms in March, praised the board’s decision.
“New York City is going further than any jail system in America to ban solitary confinement once and for all,” de Blasio in a statement. “Through our work with our Board of Correction, we have found a plan that will provide a safe and humane environment for those who are incarcerated and officers alike.”
The vote came one day after activists held a march and rally demanding an end to solitary confinement. The demonstration was led by the families of Layleen Polanco and Kalief Browder.
Polanco, who had health issues, died two years ago while being held in restrictive housing in a Rikers Island jail. The 27-year-old, who had health issues, couldn’t afford a $500 bail.
Browder died by suicide six years ago after he was incarcerated at Rikers Island for three years — two of which he spent in solitary — as a teenager. Accused of stealing a backpack when he was 16, Browder maintained his innocence and was forced to await trial at Rikers because his family couldn’t afford $10,000 bail.
The families were joined on Monday by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“I believe we can keep people safe without torture,” he said. “Instead of fixing it so people are treated like human beings, leadership wants to put people in solitary confinement and torture them.”
According to the mayor’s office, Level 1 of RMAS offers a minimum of 10 hours out of a jail cell per day, however, the families of Browder and Polanco blasted the new disciplinary system and city officials for misrepresenting what that time actually looks like for inmates.
A representative for Polanco’s family told PIX11 on Tuesday that inmates in Level 1 of RMAS will spend most of their 10 hours of out-of-cell time in another cell attached to their existing unit.
Melania Brown, Polanco’s sister and a criminal justice activist, said in a statement that RMAS doesn’t end solitary, it perpetuates it by only guaranteeing one hour of programming per day outside of their cell and its connected “cage.”
“The Board of Correction’s rules do not end solitary confinement. They fully allow solitary but just give it another name. Being locked alone 23 hours or more a day in a small cell next to another cell is still solitary confinement. There is no other word for it,” she said in the statement. “This type of confinement would not have saved my sister, Layleen Polanco. Today marks two years since I lost my best friend, my sister, my church. Layleen’s ashes are around my neck. Solitary confinement needs to actually come to an end. No human should be locked in a cage within a cage.”
Brown also reiterated her accusation that de Blasio broke his promise to end solitary confinement.
“The mayor used my sister’s name to promise he would end solitary. With these rules, he broke his promise. The mayor and all of the electeds must stop using our loved ones’ names in vain. The mayor and the board must change these rules and actually end solitary,” she said. “Since they clearly will not do that, the City Council must not wait another day to pass legislation that truly ends solitary confinement.”
According to the mayor’s office, RMAS is a two-level progression model that includes the following:
- Attorney representation at the infraction hearing
- Minimum 10 hours out of jail cell and socializing with at least one other person
- Strong presumption of progression from Level 1 to Level 2 in 15 days, and out of Level 2 in 15 days
- The ability for the Department of Correction to extend placement in RMAS only when necessary
- Any extension must be documented with a clear threat to safety; person in custody has ability to appeal with attorney representation
- Individualized behavioral support plans
- Steady, experienced case managers
- Hours of daily programming, including required therapeutic programming in a space outside the dayroom space
- Daily rounds by health and mental health staff
- Post-RMAS, step-down Restorative Rehabilitation Unit with 14 hours of lock-out, full access to minimum standards, and intensive programming