ALBANY - Gov. Eliot Spitzer and lawmakers announced yesterday that they have agreed on a compromise bill to ban solitary confinement for seriously mentally ill prison inmates because legislation passed this session faced a certain veto by the executive.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously during a special session yesterday, and the Assembly is scheduled to vote on the measure when it returns to Albany later this year.
About 12 percent of the prison population in New York, or some 8,000
inmates, has serious psychiatric disabilities, according to the bill's
sponsors, Nozzolio and Assembly Correction Committee Chairman Jeffrion
The bill would not ban solitary confinement entirely for this population. This is how it would work:
- Inmates with severe mental illness (such as schizophrenia or bipolar
disorder) would be diverted or removed from solitary confinement if the isolation term could potentially be for more than 30 days. They would be assessed by a mental-health clinician within one business day of being placed in the solitary unit.
- Inmates with minor mental disorders, or who required limited intervention, would be assessed by a professional within 14 days. If the prisoner were found to have a serious mental illness, the prison system would have 14 days to decide whether the inmate should be removed from solitary confinement.
- Prison officials could decide not to remove someone from the box if doing so would place in jeopardy the safety and security of the inmate, another person or the facility.
- Prisoners with serious psychiatric disabilities who were not removed from solitary confinement would receive a heightened level of treatment consisting of at least two hours a day, five days a week, of out-of-cell therapeutic care.
Senators gave final passage to the original bill at the end of their regular session last month, but negotiations had not concluded with Spitzer's office about how to hold down costs, provide special services only to the sickest of the sick, and ensure inmates without severe mental illnesses could not take advantage of the system.
Real Cost of Prisons