New York State would more closely scrutinize use of solitary confinement for mentally ill prison inmates under the terms of a legal agreement scheduled for review by a federal judge on Friday, says the New York Times. New York is one of several states that have faced lawsuits over the means used to punish mentally ill prisoners. Advocates hail the agreement as a watershed in prison reform because of the effects long isolation has had on vulnerable prisoners, including suicide and self-mutilation. Some mentally ill inmates serve months to years in punitive segregation, locked up 23 hours a day and sometimes restricted to a diet of cabbage and a pasty flour loaf for up to 30 days for misbehaving.
Under the agreement, the state would not be barred from the use of solitary confinement, or punitive segregation, to discipline mentally ill prisoners, but it would have to provide far more assessment and services for mentally ill inmates in solitary. Mental health advocates believe that the settlement will create pressure on other states to review their policies of confining mentally ill prisoners. In New York, with one of the largest prison populations in the country, mental illness has been diagnosed in about 8,400 of the 63,000 inmates.