NYC mayor ends solitary in jails for inmates with medical conditions, seeks to abolish practice altogether later this year


NEW YORK CITY, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio was said to have ordered the practice of using solitary confinement on certain inmates with underlying medical conditions to cease immediately in New York City jails.

However, seems as though this directive is part of a broader initiative to end the use of solitary in the city jails in all cases…for good.

The NYC mayor’s announcement was delivered on June 29th during his normal press briefing, which this announcement happens to coincide with plans to discipline seventeen corrections officers for the death of Layleen Polanco – who passed away while housed in solitary confinement.

During the mayor’s press briefing, the likes of Polanco and others who passed away while in solitary confinement were mentioned as being motivation for the enacted mandate. 

Some of the prohibitions mentioned in the order that relate to not placing inmates into solitary confinement were elaborated by de Blasio, which included people with asthma, those who suffer from seizures, diabetics, those with heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease, people awaiting a transplant, and those who use blood thinners or have a physical disability.

The mayor also noted that a four-person panel will be tasked with reviewing the practice of solitary confinement as a whole to ascertain whether or not to end solitary confinement completely:

“I’m appointing a four-person working group and they will get to work on a plan to end punitive segregation, to end solitary confinement in New York City, once and for all. This group will have a simple mission. A simple mandate. Find a way to end solitary confinement and tell us the things that it is going to take.”

Mayor de Blasio explained that the mandate allotted on June 29th was the first of many steps to come when addressing solitary confinement:

“We are doing that literally starting today. But we have to go further. So, let’s take the next step. Let’s end solitary confinement all together.”

According to de Blasio, he expects to see some kind of resolution delivered from the appointed group sometime later this year:

“I’m expecting a report back in the fall with whatever recommendations are there. Then we’ll get to work on making it happen. Because we can make this change in New York City.”

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Lew Enforcement Today recently reported on the in-custody death of Polanco, which apparently is the impetus behind the alteration and potential dismantling of solitary confinement in New York City jails.

Here’s the backstory on Polanco’s death. 

Seventeen correctional officers are facing disciplinary action, but no charges, in connection with the death of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died at Rikers Island while being housed in solitary confinement last June. 

One captain and three officers have been suspended without pay.  The disciplinary status of the 13 other uniformed staff has not been discussed. 

According to officials, the officers are being disciplined for failing to check on Polanco as required by administrative housing policies.  The Department of Correction found a 47-minute gap between tours of Polanco’s cell. 

This poses a huge discrepancy as per departmental policy, as inmates in solitary confinement are required to be checked on at least once every 15 minutes at irregular intervals.

(Note: ‘NBC Out’ falsely publicized that the officers were to be ‘charged’ – and some suggest it’s in line with an anti-police narrative of the media company)

Polanco, who at the time of her arrest was 27-years-old, was arrested on April 16, 2019 for allegedly assaulting a cab driver in Harlem and having a controlled substance on her.  Both charges were misdemeanors. 

According to court records, Polanco was eventually taken into custody because she missed court dates as part of an alternative to an incarceration program stemming from prostitution charges.  She was jailed because she was unable to post the $500 bail. 

Since the beginning of her incarceration, The New York City Department of Correction refused to house Polanco in a general population area with women, which resulted in increased pressure to place her in a restrictive housing unit—a unit unsuitable to handle both her medical and mental health needs. 

Subsequently, she was moved to solitary confinement for allegedly assaulting other inmates.  A few days into solitary confinement, Polanco was discovered dead due to complications of epilepsy.  According to Polanco’s family attorney, David Shanies, when her autopsy was released, her family received records confirming that Polanco suffered multiple seizures while on Rikers Island.

The announcement of the disciplinary actions made by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes after the decision by the Bronx district attorney’s officer earlier in the month to not file criminal charges against the officers involved. 

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark announced that:

“A six-month investigation by [her] office into the death of Layleen Polanco in a Rikers Island jail cell nearly one year ago has concluded that no criminal charges will be sought in the death.”

The document, made public, goes on to say:

“The purview of this office is not to determine whether it was a wrong decision to place Ms. Polanco into Punitive Segregation while she was suffering from a documented seizure disorder; the purview of this office is to determine whether that decision rose to the level of criminal behavior.”

Clark wrote:

“After an in-depth investigation by my Public Integrity Bureau, we have concluded that we would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual committed any crime associated with Ms. Polanco’s demise; we will not be seeking any criminal charges related to this devastating event.”

Included in the six-month investigation were thousands of pages of medical and corrections records as well as interviews with correction officers, medical staff, and other inmates. 

While the investigation did not find any criminal wrongdoing, it did find that the staff was not completing their unit tours as outlined by the DOC policy

Margret Garnett, the commissioner of the Department of Investigation (DOI), said:

“At minimum, every inmate housed in Punitive Segregation shall be observed at least once every 15 minutes at irregular intervals.”

The DOI referred the investigation to the Department of Correction to take, “any action it deemed appropriate” against its employees.

“We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane,” Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement.  “Even one death in our custody is one too many and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes clear that the safety and well-being of people in our custody remains our top priority.”

Elias Husamudeen, the President of the Correction Officer Benevolent Association has a much different view on the decision to take disciplinary action on those involved in the incident:

“These suspensions represent an egregious abuse of power that is unprecedented. Our members are being thrown under the bus when even the Bronx District Attorney found they did nothing wrong.

“If there is anyone who should be held responsible for the death of Layleen Polanco, it’s Commissioner Brann and her inept managers. We will vigorously fight these suspensions and refuse to allow this city to demonize correction officers. This is a disgrace!”

Polanco’s family lawyer says the welcome the news, but are unsure of how meaningful the announcement actually is. 

The family attorney said:

“As important as individual accountability is, we must focus even more on institutional accountability. Suspending or even firing individual employees will not save the next Layleen from dying.

“We need to treat trans women as women. We need to stop abusing solitary confinement. We need to treat people in jail as humans who deserve safety and dignity.”


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