By Clio Chang /  Image courtesy

The New York City Department of Corrections has decided to eliminate solitary confinement for inmates age 16 and 17 by the end of the year. This resolution is a response to public criticism of abusive conditions at Rikers Island, which houses more than 12,000 of the city’s inmates.

The jail made headlines this summer after the federal government released a report stating that the city was violating inmates’ civil rights. Stories of abuse have been as numerous as they have been bleak — an inmate beaten for falling asleep in class, a culture of distorting data on violence, and a 16-year-old boy who, accused of stealing a backpack, waited three years for a trial that never happened.

Preet Bharara, New York’s federal prosecutor, states he is ready to pursue legal action against the city if it does not achieve reform soon.

Eliminating solitary confinement is one of the more concrete improvements that Correctional Commissioner Joseph Ponte outlined in his recent memo to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Other changes include an expansion of educational programs and a better ratio of guards to adolescent inmates.

The fight for “Rikers Reform” is important for the welfare of inmates behind that particular set of bars, but it also shines a light on the issue of the other 7 million people under correctional control in America. The way we treat prisoners while they are locked up, after all, directly affects how they fare when they re-enter society.

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About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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