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New York Announces 'Dramatic Reform' Of Solitary Confinement Rules

Finalizing the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that alleged overuse of solitary confinement, New York will change the way it handles such confinement in its prison system. The changes center on improving prisoners' socialization and rehabilitation.

The 79-page agreement ends a lawsuit filed by New York's ACLU chapter, which accused one of the largest prison systems in the country of using inhumane and torturous methods in dealing with prisoners.

Leroy Peoples, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, served 780 consecutive days in isolation. The NYCLU says he was punished not for violent behavior, but for filing false documents.

"Solitary confinement is mental torture that I wouldn't want anyone to experience," Peoples says in a news release from the NYCLU. "A major milestone has been accomplished today."

From North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann:

"Under the provisions of this deal, New York state will immediately move roughly 1,100 inmates into alternative programs. They will also develop training programs for corrections officers designed to encourage the use of forms of discipline and security other than isolation. Prisoners still held in solitary for more than 180 days will receive additional counseling, social time, and access to telephones."

As Brian reported in August, when he reviewed how the use of solitary confinement has spread in U.S. prisons, "The practice is now such a standard disciplinary tool in the U.S. that even nonviolent inmates are often placed in isolation for months or years at a time."

Today's change comes months after California changed how it handles solitary confinement, settling a lawsuit that said the practice of putting people in long-term isolation violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The New York settlement also includes a change in diet, requiring the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision "to replace the Loaf within three months ... with a nutritious, calorie-sufficient, and palatable alternative meal composed of regular food items that can be safely delivered to and eaten by inmates.

Providing an example, the settlement says "a sack lunch consisting of fruit, cheese, cold cuts, sandwich bread, and coleslaw would meet the requirements of this subsection."

That would be a step up from the notorious "Loaf," which The New York Times describes as "a foul-tasting brick of bread and root vegetables."

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