In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on October 11 that the City’s Department of Correction has ended the practice of punitive segregation for inmates aged 21 and under. The announcement, which instantly met with opposition from the guards’ union, reflects the Department of Correction’s decision to “implement alternative, rehabilitative approaches for managing young inmates’ behavior” and end “a practice that can be counterproductive to the development of young adults.” This action, taken, in part, out of concern for the young prisoners’ mental health, makes New York City the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to reform their punitive segregation, solitary confinement policy for those 19-21.
After de Blasio’s announcement, NYC’s prison guards’ union took legal action contesting the new 21-and-under policy. The union contends that the implementation of this policy without negotiation violates their collective-bargaining rights. In the past two years, New York City had eliminated solitary confinement for those aged 16-18. Corinne Ramey in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 14th) reports that violence has increased in the City’s Rikers Island facility this year, citing a statement by the corrections officers’ leader that young prisoners there are the “worst inmates” and that abolishing solitary confinement will jeopardize the safety of the officers.
While there are many sides to the issue, President Obama called for solitary confinement reform in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post early this year. He cited the dangerous mental and physical health consequences of solitary confinement, connecting it with depression and violent behavior. “Prisoners in solitary“, he wrote, “are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses. The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance.”
Clinical social workers, what do you think? Especially those who work in prisons, do you support ending solitary confinement for young people?
Photo credit. Piece by Molly Booth.