New York City has agreed to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger, a move that would place the troubled Rikers Island jail complex at the forefront of national reform efforts, the New York Times reports. The change was a stark turnaround by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who eliminated solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, resisted curtailing the practice more broadly. Even the most innovative jails punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice.
The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the nation's second-largest jail system. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at Rikers. In the face of mounting scrutiny, the city has provided millions of dollars for better staffing and improved programs for inmates. Scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it.