Many conditions on Rikers Island can be considered inhumane or immoral, but only one practice has been explicitly termed torture by the United Nations: prolonged solitary confinement. Its horrors were etched into the consciousness of New Yorkers by the ordeal of Caliph Browder, who committed suicide after spending nearly two years in solitary confinement awaiting trial.
A city council bill to ban singles has the support of chairman Adrienne Adams, public attorney Jumaane Williams and the vast majority of the council. The practice here is defined as keeping someone alone in a cell for more than four hours in a 24-hour period, or a collective 12 hours in a seven-day period, in addition to eight hours of daily sleep time and two hours to be counted – in all cases in which there is no immediate need to “de-escalate conflict”, it is seriously flawed.
The correctional department states that it does not engage in this practice anyway and is already in compliance with a previous state law that curbs loneliness. If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t be a problem for the Council to narrowly formalize a ban. The problem here is that the Council bill not only bans a form of incarceration that all involved, including Mayor Adams and Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina, agree is inhumane, but also dangerously restricts officers from often fluid and chaotic situations. If it continues in its current form, it would likely increase the violence and chaos in the already violent and chaotic prisons.
A requirement that all inmates be heard before being placed in restrictive housing is terribly unwise. For example, if someone strikes down fellow inmates or guards, they should be immediately removed from the general population. The Council must ditch this overly restrictive language that blocks the use of restrictive housing due to serious misconduct.
We have no problem defining what is and isn’t allowed, for example to ensure that all inmates get the real “out of cell” time they were promised. And it makes sense to have due process for those in such residences. But not this way.