Legal Aid and Paul Weiss File Federal Class Action Challenging Unlawful Policy of Placing Pretrial Detainees in Solitary Confinement for Previous Periods of Detention

The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP filed a federal class action complaint Thursday, October 30, 2014, against New York City and current and former Department of Correction Commissioners and Chiefs, challenging the unlawful policy and practice of placing pretrial detainees in solitary confinement as punishment for conduct that occurred during a previous period of detention. Pursuant to the Department of Correction’s policy and practice, pretrial detainees – who have previously been released and then return to City custody – are placed in solitary confinement to serve the balance of solitary confinement days incurred during their prior detention without due process. DOC Policy treats time in solitary confinement from a previous detention (“Old Time”) as a “sentence” that was “interrupt[ed],” punishing pretrial detainees for conduct from a previous detention even if it is far removed in time and circumstance.

In solitary confinement, adults and adolescents languish alone in extreme isolation for at least 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are housed in cramped, single-occupancy cells that deny them meaningful physical movement and the normal human interactions necessary for a person’s well-being. Recent media accounts of the deaths or serious physical injury of people in solitary confinement, many who suffer with mental illness, underscore the severe danger this punishment can cause. The City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has explained, “it is expected that healthy persons when placed in solitary confinement will suffer harm” and a recent report commissioned by the Board of Correction found that solitary confinement “is one of the most severe forms of punishment that can be inflicted on human beings short of killing them.” The Department of Justice has also criticized the City’s excessive use of solitary confinement, and the New York City Council and many advocates have called for the immediate end to the City’s Old Time policy. The lawsuit, Bryant, et al., v. City of New York, et al., asks the Court to order DOC to end its policy and practice of imposing solitary confinement as punishment for Old Time.