Settlement Reached to Curb Solitary Confinement Abuse

, New York Law Journal

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Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin Wednesday approved a deal between the state's prison system and civil liberties lawyers to reform solitary confinement. The agreement arose from Peoples v. Fischer, 11 CV- 2694, a class action lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union against the New York State Department of Community Corrections (DOCCS), alleging it that used confinement sanctions to penalize a disproportionate number of black and mentally ill prisoners for behavior that did not endanger other prisoners.

Under the agreement, the NYCLU will suspend the litigation for 24 months while DOCCS implements a series of reforms intended to curb the abuse of solitary confinement. Each side has designated an expert to produce recommendations, which will be used to develop reforms and new training materials.

DOCCS has also agreed to adopt a presumption against putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. It has also agreed, contingent on obtaining necessary funding, not to use solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old prisoners except under special circumstances determined by the central office, and to appoint an assistant commissioner to oversee the use of solitary confinement.

NYCLU senior staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass said the steps are just the start of a two-year reassessment of how the state uses solitary confinement.

The plaintiffs may move to vacate the two-year stay if they believe good faith negotiations have been exhausted.

The plaintiffs are represented by Morrison & Foerster and by Professor Alexander Reinert of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Richard Brewster.

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