In the New York State prison system, it’s possible to be thrown into solitary confinement for a nonviolent offense, then kept there for two years straight, 23 hours a day with no days off. That’s exactly what happened to Leroy Peoples, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit settled this week that will drastically reduce the use of the punishment.
Currently, about 4,000 people in New York are subjected to the inhumanity of solitary. The particulars of the punishment, as relayed by the New York Times, are chilling: Tiny cell, almost no human contact, years-long sentences, a menu that sometimes consists entirely of a food-like substance ominously referred to as “the loaf.” If prison aims to rehabilitate people so that they may successfully enter back into society, it is obvious that this isn’t the way to do it. It’s not surprising that people kept in solitary are more likely to commit suicide or otherwise harm themselves than other inmates.
Under the settlement, more than 1,100 people will come out of solitary, fewer offenses will be punishable by solitary, and nearly all sentences in solitary will be capped at three months—among other things, according to the NYCLU.
This is great news for everyone, except for those 3,000 people who aren’t getting out. If appeals to the prisoners’ humanity don’t move you, consider its impact on crime. Stints in solitary are statistically linked to higher rates of recidivism upon getting out. Keeping people out of solitary, just like keeping certain offenders out of prison altogether, actually makes New York safer.