Over the last two years, the Department of Correction has nearly doubled the number of “punitive segregation” cells—the Department’s term for solitary confinement—at the jail facilities at Rikers Island. The 44 percent jump, DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro testified at a City Council budget hearing this month, constitutes “the most significant increase in the department’s history,” one that prisoners rights groups say gives New York City one of the highest solitary confinement rates in the nation.
At press time, 914 inmates were being held in segregation at Rikers, meaning they are typically confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. Jail officials say this is a necessary tool to curtail an uptick in violence, maintain safety and order and deal with inmates who commit serious rule violations.
But prisoner advocacy groups say the increase is alarming at a time when the inmate population in the city’s jails is at a low, and in light of a growing body of research that says solitary confinement does little to curb bad behavior, and could actually make some inmates act more violently…
By all accounts, the NYC DOC seems determined to move ahead with its plans to increase the number of solitary cells on Rikers to close to a thousand.
On the other side, there is growing resistance from inmates’ families and advocates for the rights of prisoners, people with mental illness, and juveniles in the justice system (since the latter two groups are grossly overrepresented in solitary confinement). A coalition concerned with conditions at Rikers has been meeting since late last year, and is holding a meeting tomorrow, Thursday, March 29. Click here for details.