New York is set to introduce some big changes to how solitary confinement is used in the state’s prisons, after settling a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2011. The lawsuit alleged that the state overuses solitary confinement; its plaintiff spent 780 consecutive days without regular human contact. There are about 4,000 inmates in solitary confinement right now.
The state plans to try and reduce the solitary-confinement population by 1,000 — by putting those being punished for nonviolent or minor offenses somewhere else — and make sure that those still kept in the small, isolated cells aren’t there for much longer than three months. The settlement — which may face push-back from the corrections-officers union — would also allow inmates in solitary confinement to have periodic recreation time with other inmates and access to a phone once a month.
There are about 60,000 inmates in New York’s 58 state prisons. The $62 million plan still has to be approved by a judge, but once it is changes should start being made in about three months.
The state will also stop punishing inmates by only giving them “the Loaf,” a lasagne-shaped mishmash of bread and potatoes and who-knows-what-else that has been described as “absolutely detestable,” “revolting,” and something that smells “a little bit like the food they serve in the elephant cage at the National Zoo” and tastes like “someone physically removed all hints of flavor.”
Instead, the settlement recommends that inmates in solitary confinement be given something like “a sack lunch consisting of fruit, cheese, cold cuts, sandwich bread, and coleslaw.”