The New York City Council has gained a veto-proof supermajority for a bill to end all solitary confinement in the aftermath of the latest death on Rikers Island.
The bill (Intro. 549), would end solitary confinement in all forms – instead utilizing other forms of separation in order to ensure the safety and well-being of incarcerated individuals. Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who chairs the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, sponsored the legislation, and along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Comptroller Brad Lander, reported Monday that Rikers Island inmates were being held in solitary-like conditions during their most recent surprise visit to the facility.
News of the supermajority on Intro. 549 comes in the wake of the death of Michael Nieves, a 40-year-old inmate who fatally slit his throat while in custody on Rikers Island. According to published reports, Nieves bled out for 10 minutes in his cell while Corrections Department guards did nothing to stop the bleeding; the inmate died on Aug. 31 at Elmhurst Hospital, just days after being declared brain dead.
“The continued use of solitary confinement is unjustifiable under any circumstances,” said Council Member Rivera. “Solitary confinement — no matter what you call it — is traumatic and inhumane, with lethal effects on mental health and safety for all. During my most recent visit to Rikers, I spoke with a man who was kept in ‘involuntary protective custody’ without a bed for nearly two days awaiting adequate mental health observation. With supermajority bill sponsorship, it is now time for the City Council to end solitary confinement, in all forms and by all names.”
Williams — who is the lead sponsor of the bill — agreed.
“It’s not enough to end solitary in name only – we need a real, enforceable ban on this dangerous, torturous practice,” Williams said. “Our bill provides clear guidelines, based [on] the experiences of people who have endured solitary, to allow for short term separation when needed while preventing the deeply damaging practice and impact of punitive isolation.”
Criminal justice advocates who have called for a permanent end to solitary confinement urged the City Council to swiftly pass the bill, and for Mayor Eric Adams to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.
“Solitary confinement is torture,” said Victor Pate, #HALTsolitary Campaign Co-Director and survivor of Rikers Island and solitary confinement, in a Sept. 1 statement. “It is a horrific practice that should have ended long ago. Yet New York City’s jails continue to lock people in solitary confinement and continue to find new ways to inflict this torture, even locking people in solitary in tiny medieval shower cages. It has to stop and it has to stop now.”
Even so, it’s not exactly clear if Adams would support the legislation. On Monday, he fired back at criticism from Lander, Williams and Rivera about the solitary-like conditions they observed on Rikers, charging that incarcerated individuals who prove to be violent in jail must be separated from others.
“If you are in jail and you commit a predatory crime on a staffer, a civilian, or another inmate, I want them to tell us what we should do with them, because I don’t know what they want us to do with them,” Adams said during an unrelated Aug. 29 press conference at City Hall.
“I think people who commit violent crimes should be removed from society, and [if] they commit violent crimes while they are removed from society, they need to go somewhere so they don’t hurt people again,” hizzoner added.
amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment on Intro. 549, and is awaiting a response.
With reporting by Kevin Duggan