In a surprise move, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to settle in the solitary confinement practices case of Peoples v. Fischer. The December 2012 case, brought by New York state inmate Leroy Peoples and litigated by the New York Civil Liberties Union, asserted that New York state prisons’ solitary confinement practices and policies were cruel, unusual, and far more severe than need be.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s report Boxed In, which was heavily quoted in the amended complaint, “Between 2007 and 2011 , New York imposed nearly 70,000 extreme isolation sentences.” It further alleged that on any given day, “8 percent of the New York prison population” or 4,300 New York state inmates were housed in 23-hour lockdown solitary confinement cells. The average solitary confinement sentence imposed was 150 days, a five- to ten-fold increase over what leading solitary confinement experts deem “tolerable.”
The terms of the settlement agreement were spelled out in a 12-page stipulated mandate. The mandate requires additional recreation opportunities, educational programming and more in New York state prison solitary confinement units. Likewise, a maximum solitary confinement term limit, term guidelines, and restrictions on housing mentally ill inmates, juveniles, and pregnant inmates will be put in place.
The widespread use of solitary confinement for relatively minor, nonviolent rule infractions has been widely criticized by outlets such as Prison Legal News and Solitary Watch due to the extreme psychological damage such confinement often results in. The Prison Law Blog is very passionate about the issue of solitary confinement abuses due to the fact that several members of our staff have been subjected to long-term solitary confinement at the hands of the North Carolina Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons for nonviolent prison rule infractions, including months spent in solitary confinement pending disciplinary charges which were eventually expunged on appeal.
Make no mistake, solitary confinement is not only used for the worst of the worst, but anyone who offends their prison’s administrators. In this breath, our thoughts go out to Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., author of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs during his current stay in the hole due to possession of butter, a violation of prison rules which resulted in him serving a term of solitary confinement.
To learn more about this developing solitary confinement story, visit .