Pou, Cunningham Bill Restricting Isolated Confinement Clears Committee

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, which would restrict the use of isolated confinement in correctional facilities, passed the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today.

“We want a justice system that treats everyone humanely; a system that respects the rights of everyone, including those who are incarcerated,” said Senator Pou (D- Bergen/Passaic). “Solitary confinement often fails to produce positive results, even being counterproductive, cruel, inhumane and can have severe consequences for the physical and mental health of prisoners. This bill will help change that culture of corrections by restricting the use of isolated confinement and it ensures that those in confinement get the care and humane treatment they require and deserve.”

The bill, S-3261, would restrict isolated confinement from being used for non-disciplinary reasons or without first providing a personal and comprehensive medical and mental examination.

This bill is nearly identical to the bill S-51 which passed the Senate in 2017 but was subsequently vetoed by then Governor Christie.

“The lasting mental health damage cause by isolated confinement is well documented and still our state holds over 5% of its detainees in this manner,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “We must do everything we can to minimize this practice in our correctional facilities. Legislation to prevent this cruel and unusual punishment is long overdue, using it at the volume we do is not only unnecessary but unjust. Unless a person is of clear and present danger to others, we should not be placing them in solitary confinement.”

The bill also prohibits members of vulnerable groups from being placed in isolated confinement, which include: those who are 21 years old or younger or who are 65 years old or older, have a disability based on mental illness, have a developmental disability, have a serious medical condition, are pregnant or recently pregnant, have a significant auditory or visual impairment, or are perceived to be LGBT+. In order to determine if an individual is a part of vulnerable group, the bill would require a clinician to evaluate each inmate.

Exceptions that would permit the use of isolated confinement include: if the inmate could become a threat to themselves or others, if an inmate were placed due to emergency confinement, medical isolation, protective custody, or if there were a facility-wide lock down and to ensure the safety of the inmates.

Additionally under the bill, inmates would have the right to contest isolated confinement within 72 hours of the placement. And inmates would not be able to be placed in isolated confinement for more than 15 consecutive days or more than 20 days within a 60 day period.

The use of isolated confinement has been linked to a number of adverse effects on inmates. Several studies have found that individuals subjected to isolated confinement have exhibited behaviors similar to post traumatic stress disorder, hallucinations, perceptual distortions, rage and irrational anger. These individuals are also at a higher risk of self-mutilation and suicide.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 5-0.