In 2015, New York state reached a landmark settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which had sued over the state’s aggressive use of solitary confinement to discipline inmates. Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a multi-year process phasing in limits on the time inmates spend in isolation and improving conditions. In recent weeks, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association has begun publicizing violent incidents where inmates assault prison staff. The powerful group says solitary confinement is a necessary tool that keeps prisons safe, NPR reports.
Union head Mike Powers argues that the reforms are partly to blame for recent incidents. Without the threat of solitary confinement, he says, officers have less control. He cites state prison data showing the number of assaults on officers by inmates rose by a third over the last decade. “It’s basically given the inmate population a more brazen attitude, recognizing that consequences aren’t what they used to be,” Powers says. Prison reform advocates disagree. They say the increase in violence took place before these reforms were implemented. Some corrections experts say when guards use alternative methods of discipline, there are often fewer disruptions. “Millions of dollars have been invested in additional security staffing, technology upgrades and training, which we are pleased has resulted in a dramatic decline in assaults and injuries to our staff,” says New York prison system spokesman Thomas Mailey, who added that violence against guards fell in 2016 as reforms were being implemented. State officials say the effort to scale back the use of solitary confinement will go forward, despite prison guard concerns.