The New York City Board of Correction on Tuesday voted to ban solitary confinement for inmates age 21 or younger at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, city officials said.
Rikers, one of the world’s largest jails, holding about 14,000 inmates on an average day, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over reports of abusive and neglectful treatment of its youngest prisoners.
“After decades of alarming mismanagement, today’s vote means meaningful reform is well under way at Rikers,” Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who was hired early last year to improve conditions at Rikers, said in a statement.
The board voted unanimously to reform its governing rules to end by January 2016 the use of solitary confinement as punishment for Rikers inmates aged 18 to 21.
Solitary confinement was phased out for Rikers inmates younger than 18 after the U.S. Justice Department released a report in August saying teenage prisoners at the facility were routinely beaten by guards.
On Tuesday, the board also voted to amend the rules to limit solitary confinement sentences to 30 days per infraction for all inmates, reducing the limit from 90 days.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), a civil liberties and free speech advocacy group, lauded changes.
“For the first time in years, Rikers Island will be at the forefront of national jail reform efforts,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Critics of the board’s decision included the head of the union representing New York City corrections officers, Norman Seabrook. He said jail staff will be at greater risk if they cannot place dangerous offenders in seclusion.
The federal report said the teenagers were excessively punished with solitary confinement and that the practice may harm the many young inmates already suffering from mental illnesses.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Scott Malone, Susan Heavey and David Gregorio)