City to Sharply Increase Solitary Confinement on Rikers Island � Solitary Watch: By Jean Casella and Dina Levy
Over the past year, the New York City Department of Corrections (NYCDOC) has quietly implemented a massive expansion in the number of solitary confinement units on Rikers Island. By the end of 2011, the number of “punitive segregation” cells at Rikers will have grown by 45 percent, from 681 to a total of 990 cells. Some of these cells, in which prisoners are isolated for up to 23 hours a day, hold juveniles, inmates with mental illness, and pre-trial detainees not yet convicted of any crime. Once the expansion is complete, New York City’s island jail will have one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country.
In increasing its use of solitary confinement at this time, NYDOC is bucking a national trend. A growing body of academic research suggests that solitary confinement can cause severe psychological damage, and may in fact increase both violent behavior and suicide rates among prisoners. In recent years, criminal justice reformers and human rights and civil liberties advocates have increasingly questioned the widespread and routine use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons and jails, and states from Maine to Mississippi have taken steps to reduce the number of inmates they hold in isolation.