New York State has agreed to sweeping reforms intended to curtail the widespread use of solitary confinement, including prohibiting its use in disciplining prisoners under 18, reports the New York Times. The state becomes the largest U.S. prison system to prohibit the use of disciplinary confinement for minors, says the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the three prisoners whose lawsuit led to the agreement. State correction officials will also be prohibited from imposing solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for inmates who are pregnant, and the punishment will be limited to 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled.
The agreement imposes “sentencing guidelines” for all prisoners, specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run. No such guidelines exist, except in cases involving certain violent and drug-related offenses. “New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort” in prisons, said the civil liberties group’s Donna Lieberman. Several states, including Colorado, Mississippi and Washington, had begun to look into how to reduce the use of solitary confinement; a Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing next week on the issue.