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NYC Mayor slams solitary confinement ban

“Someone slashes someone in jail, what do I do with him? I remove him from population and put him someplace by himself until he corrects his action.”


Photo/Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News

By Michael Gartland
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Mayor Adams on Tuesday attacked City Council members who want to ban solitary confinement from city jails — a day after Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said she’d back the proposed ban.

The mayor was responding to a question posed on a visit to the National Press Club in Washington about whether he’d sign such a bill if it’s approved by the Council.

He didn’t give a yes or no answer, but his response Tuesday made clear that he remains against such a measure.

“If someone slashes someone with a knife on the street, I put him in jail. I remove him from population because he’s dangerous,” the mayor said. “Someone slashes someone in jail, what do I do with him? I remove him from population and put him someplace by himself until he corrects his action and gets the assistance he needs. So what the City Council is saying is if someone slashes someone in jail, you do nothing with them.”

Adams then took his criticism of that alleged rationale one step further.

“Well, if they believe that, then don’t arrest anyone for slashing someone on the street. I mean, you can’t have it both ways” he said. “This is silly.”

Adams’ remarks set the table for what could be an epic showdown between himself and the Council Speaker, with whom he’s bragged about being simpatico in the past. The mayor has joked that he and Council Speaker Adams make up the “Adams and Adams” law firm. The two are not related.

The bill in question, which is sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, now has the support of 35 Council members, which would give it a veto-proof majority. If Mayor Adams were to veto the bill, and if that majority were to hold, it would almost certainly be viewed as a serious blow to his administration.

The bill as written would prohibit the city from putting an inmate into solitary confinement for more than eight hours during a day “unless such confinement is necessary to deescalate immediate conflict that has caused injury or poses a specific, serious and imminent danger to a person’s safety.”

“In such circumstances, an incarcerated individual may be confined in a cell for no longer than necessary to deescalate the conflict, not to exceed four hours immediately following such conflict,” the bill goes on to state.

Williams said Tuesday that there’s been a “gross misrepresentation of what the bill does.”

He said it does not ban the Correction Department from separating violent inmates from the rest of the population, but instead puts guard rails on the practice, which is also known as punitive segregation.

Limiting that practice and making sure it isn’t abused became a priority for some city lawmakers after Layleen Polanco died in solitary confinement at Rikers Island in June of 2019.

Polanco, who was 27 and transgender, died after being found unresponsive in her cell after having an epileptic seizure. In the aftermath of her death, the city disciplined 17 correction officers for what former Mayor Bill de Blasio described at the time as an “absolutely unacceptable” outcome.

The Bronx district attorney and the city Department of Investigation both declined to bring charges in the case, but the city’s Board of Correction, a panel that oversees the city Correction Department, found that instead of checking on Polanco every 15 minutes as required while in solitary confinement, Rikers staff waited up to almost an hour to check up on her.

Williams said he understands the need to separate inmates in certain situations, but he added that it is incumbent on the city to do that in a way that’s humane.

“We want to make sure there’s accountability,” he said. “If you have to separate someone, let’s do that, but let’s make sure there’s due process there.”

When asked about Mayor Adams’ most recent rhetoric on the issue — specifically his comparing a solitary ban to refusing to jail people for violent assaults — Council Speaker Adams said the mayor “is going to have his opinions regardless.”

“I welcome having more conversations,” she said.

NEXT: Calif. may soon restrict use of solitary confinement in prisons, jails

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