New York state today agreed to a major overhaul in the way solitary confinement is administered in its prisons, with the goal of significantly reducing the number of inmates held in isolation, cutting the maximum length of stay and improving their living conditions, the New York Times reports. The five-year, $62 million agreement resulted from a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union over the abusive treatment of inmates in solitary. For 23 hours a day, 4,000 inmates are locked away, sometimes for years, with little if any human contact, no access to rehab programs and a diet that can be restricted to a foul-tasting brick of bread and root vegetables known as “the loaf.”
The changes are expected to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement by at least a quarter and bring a range of reforms, including limiting the time served to three months in most cases and providing the prisoners with certain privileges, like monthly phone calls and group recreation. “This is the end hopefully of an era where people are just thrown into the box for an unlimited amount of time on the whim of a corrections officer,” said Taylor Pendergrass, the lead counsel on the case. “This will not be the end of the road for solitary confinement reform, but we really think it's a watershed moment.” The agreement ends three years of litigation between the civil liberties union and the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.