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Queens councilman tries to bring back solitary confinement at city jails for inmates under 21

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Photo courtesy of Robert Holden’s Campaign

Queens Councilman Robert Holden introduced a bill on Thursday, Feb. 10, that would bring back punitive segregation for inmates under 21 in city jails. 

Punitive segregation, also known as solitary confinement, locks people in their cells for 23 hours of the day as punishment for a violent offense while in custody, as described by the city. Holden’s bill specifies that solitary confinement is allowable for inmates ages 18 to 21 who commit a violent act and have undergone therapeutic counseling for a prior violent outburst. 

Holden said that violent, lawless behavior should not be tolerated in the city, inside or outside of city jails. 

“Our corrections officers walk the toughest beat in the city: our jails, and they are being assaulted with impunity by inmates,” Holden said. “Female correction officers, for example, should not suffer deep psychological damage because inmates know there will be no real penalty for sexually assaulting them.”

The New York Post recently reported a Rikers Island correction officer said an inmate violently tried to molest her. The anonymous officer was charged by the inmate who was placed in jail for sexual assault until another inmate pulled the attacker off of her.

Mayor Eric Adams came forward in early December, announcing his full support of punitive segregation, saying that inmates should never be able to sexually assault a staffer.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio ended punitive segregation for inmates 21 and under in 2016. The former administration instead created three therapeutic alternatives to the segregated housing model for managing behavior. Holden and other opposers to this method argue that punitive segregation is the only way to keep officers and inmates safe. 

“If our City Council members truly believe that everyone in our facilities deserve to be safe, then we must retain the ability to separate violent offenders from non-violent offenders,” said Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio. “We thank Councilman Bob Holden for introducing this critical legislation and encourage all City Council members to support it, so together, we can save lives.”

Newly-elected Council Member Tiffany Cabán is strongly opposed to this bill, which she said would bring back the history of “torture” in city jails. 

“Look, either you care about outcomes or you don’t,” Cabán said. “All the evidence is clear: meaningful out-of-cell time, with access to medical, mental and physical care, achieves better public safety outcomes than solitary confinement ever could. I want safety for everybody involved: incarcerated people, correctional and medical staff, community members — everybody. Torture will never get us there.”

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