The New York City Council is expected on Wednesday to approve a bill that would make New York the largest U.S. city to ban solitary confinement in city jails in most cases, part of a national campaign to end a practice critics say amounts to torture. The council’s push to ban solitary confinement has been stalled for years over concerns about staffing shortages and violence against jail workers. Mayor Eric Adams has argued since he took office two years ago that isolating detainees is an important tool to help protect them, the New York Times reports. The mayor and the union representing correction officers, which also fiercely opposes the bill, are expected to continue to lobby against the ban. The bill’s sponsors and supporters say there are enough votes to pass the bill and to override Adams if he vetoes it.
A group of 11 Congress members wrote a letter supporting the bill, including Representative Adriano Espaillat, a key ally of the mayor, and Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader. Left-leaning members of the 51-member Council had pushed Adrienne Adams, the City Council speaker, to schedule a vote. The bill now has 38 sponsors. The city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, a backer of the bill, said that isolating detainees was cruel and that the bill still allowed for people to be separated when needed. “Losing privileges is something that is understandable,” he said. “Losing a basic human right shouldn’t be.” Solitary confinement, known as punitive segregation, is the practice of holding a detainee alone in a cell for most of the day as punishment. The bill would ban the practice beyond a four-hour “de-escalation” period during an emergency. Correction officers would be required to check on detainees every 15 minutes during that period Prison reform advocates praised the council bill and said it was long overdue. Johnny Perez of the U.S. Prisons Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, called it a “big step forward” that would “show other states and localities what is actually possible and what real alternatives look like.”