New York City agreed to pay up to $53 million to settle a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of pretrial detainees who were wrongfully isolated and held in small cells for up to 23 hours per day, reports the New York Times. People accused of breaking certain rules while awaiting trial in city jails are entitled to fair hearings before they are transferred from communal areas to restrictive housing, which sometimes includes solitary confinement, according to the settlement and Board of Correction rules. The Correction Department did not grant those mandatory hearings to about 4,400 detainees between March 2018 and June 2022, denying due process to people who had not been convicted of crimes, said Eric Hecker, one of the lawyers who filed the class-action lawsuit. “The department brazenly ignored the Constitution,” Hecker said. “They knew this was highly restrictive housing, and they knew it was illegal, but they kept using it anyway.”
Nicholas Paolucci of New York's Law Department called safety at the Rikers Island jail complex one of the city’s highest priorities, and said that the decision to place some detainees in restrictive housing had “reflected these safety concerns ... The practices that led to this litigation have been modified. The deal, whose final size depends on how many wronged detainees claim their share, would be one of the largest city payouts ever involving the Correction Department. In November, the city agreed to pay as much as $300 million to thousands of jailed people whose releases were delayed for hours or days after they made bail. The agreement filed on Wednesday comes as legislative efforts to end solitary confinement are stalled. Advocates and researchers say prolonged isolation does long-lasting psychological damage to prisoners, impeding their rehabilitation.