As N.Y.C. Jails Become More Violent, Solitary Confinement Persists

October 13, 2020

In this morning's NY Times, there is a news article about Rikers Island, the New York City Jail. The city has done a remarkable job of reducing dramatically the number of incarcerated men and women at Rikers.  This chart shows the reduction in numbers at Rikers Island:

Year Total Incarcerated In Solitary
2013 62,955 5,472
2014 58,206 4,992
2015 52,040 3,214
2016 49,575 2,444
2017 46,142 1,729
2018 37,972 1,758
2019 31,480 1,703
2020 7,214 935
A couple observations. County, Regional, and City Jails can reduce their populations dramatically.  It is striking that NY City was able to reduce the population at Rikers over the course of nine years from over 60,000 people to 7,214 people. It is not hard to conclude that most of the people released were not judged a threat to themselves or to the public.
On the other hand, it seems that Rikers did hold onto people who were judged a threat to public safety or to themselves; thus the need between 5 and 7% of those remaining to be placed in solitary confinement. The article does not give any figures about the average or median length of stay which is critical. It is one thing if a person is put in isolation for a day or two; it is another if that person is in isolation for weeks or even months.  

It is to the credit of the leaders of Rikers Island that they were able to dramatically reduce the number of people incarcerated and to limit the number of people in solitary to 5 to 7% of the jail population.

The real question is whether Rikers has the wherewithal to provide the services needed to people who act out violently. According to the experience of those systems such as in Colorado, solitary can be severely limited and hardly used if the appropriate psychological, medical, and educational services are made available to prison or jail staff.  Consider the savings to Rikers' budget with such low numbers of incarcerated people! Those savings should be then put into services.  


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