Recently signed legislation restricts the use of isolated confinement in New Jersey’s correctional facilities. The legislation codifies into law certain existing New Jersey Department of Corrections policies, places limits on the use of long-term isolated confinement, and restricts the use of isolated confinement on vulnerable populations.
The bill prohibits inmates incarcerated or detained in correctional facilities from being placed in isolated confinement unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the inmate or others would be at substantial risk of serious harm as evidenced by recent threats or conduct, and that any less restrictive intervention would be insufficient to reduce that risk, subject to certain limited exceptions.
Primary sponsors of the legislation include Senators Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham, and Assemblymembers Nancy Pinkin, Shavonda E. Sumter, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle.
“Our state holds over 5 percent of its detainees in solitary confinement, despite extensive evidence that this causes lasting mental health damage,” said Cunningham. “Using it with the regularity that we do is not only unnecessary but unjust. Unless a person is of clear and present danger to those around them, they should not be placed in isolated confinement. This legislation is long overdue and I am grateful to see it signed into law.”
Members of vulnerable populations, including individuals under 21 and over 65, individuals with disabilities, pregnant women and LGBTQ individuals, are prohibited from being placed in isolated confinement except in rare, specified circumstances. No inmate is to be placed in isolated confinement for more than 20 consecutive days, or for more than 30 days during any 60-day period.
“The voices of survivors of solitary confinement, and their strength in summoning up some of the worst moments of their lives to stop the routine use of prolonged isolation, have been the moral ballast responsible for making these historic restrictions law,” said J. Amos Caley, lead organizer of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and associate pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park. “The power of this movement—led by survivors who have refused to stand by while others experience the agony of prolonged isolation —can serve as a guide for others around the nation to act on the imperative of ending long-term solitary confinement.”