Mentally ill inmates in New York City’s most notorious jail, Rikers Island, are too often placed in solitary confinement – in some cases for thousands of days at a time – a practice that coincides with an increased rate of violence inside the jail, an independent review of mental health standards at the jail found. The wide-ranging review, obtained by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request, is critical of the city’s use of solitary as punishment for inmates who by the very nature of their mental illnesses are more prone to breaking jailhouse rules.
About 40 percent of Rikers’ 12,200 inmates have a mental health diagnosis, and about a third of those have serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Of the roughly 800 inmates in solitary at any time, just over half of them are mentally ill. The report recommends eliminating use of solitary for mentally ill inmates as a punishment and instead partnering with a teaching hospital to provide intensive therapeutic services. The study was commissioned by the New York City Board of Correction, a watchdog over the city’s Department of Correction. “Since prolonged solitary confinement can cause symptoms of mental illness to appear even in previously healthy individuals, we strongly recommend against imposing it as a punishment for a predetermined duration even on those inmates not deemed to be mentally ill,” said New York University psychiatrist and lead author Dr. James Gilligan.