On Wednesday (March 31), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that will end long-term solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails.
The bill, endorsed by social justice advocates, will impose a 15-day limit on putting people in solitary confinement, which typically involves being in isolation nearly all day.
In addition to the time limit, prison officials will be required to conduct mental health screenings to assess suicide risk and other factors that may exacerbate mental health illnesses an incarcerated person may be experiencing.
Racial justice activists pushed for these measures and more in the bill given the disproportionate rates of Black and Latino people imprisoned.
“Having spent a lot of time with the advocates who have direct stakes in this bill, this is deeply meaningful,” New York State Sen. Julia Salazar told The Times.
The outlet reported that 70 percent of the people in New York prisons are Black or Latino and more than 80 percent of those who are placed in solitary confinement.
The practice of placing incarcerated people into isolation has long been advocated against as research demonstrates the harm it can have in the long run, including increased rates of death after release.
The story of Kalief Browder called attention to the impact of solitary confinement in prison nationwide. Browder was arrested in 2010 and held at the Rikers Island jail for three years without a trial after being accused of stealing a backpack. For nearly two years Browder was held in solitary confinement, before his case was ultimately dismissed. In 2015, Kalief died by suicide, his family and advocates say as a result of the confinement and experience he had while imprisoned.
Browder’s death moved officials to publicly address the harm of solitary confinement and the state’s notorious prisons. Other fatal incidents involving incarcerated people who've been in solitary confinement have also underlined the law’s importance and human rights advocates’ urgency.
This new legislation, advocates hope, can push toward a complete ban of solitary confinement of incarcerated people.
Anyone who needs to talk can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 no matter the time of day.
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