Why Solitary Confinement May Be Limited in New York Jails

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll look at why the City Council is expected to approve a bill largely banning solitary confinement in city jails. We’ll also find out what George Santos said in the latest stop on his notoriety tour, a widely anticipated Ziwe interview.

Credit…Associated Press

Solitary confinement in New York City jails could end soon despite objections from Mayor Eric Adams.

The City Council is scheduled on Wednesday to vote on a bill that would largely ban solitary confinement. The measure was introduced by the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and supported by a left-leaning coalition in the overwhelmingly Democratic Council. Its members pushed the Council speaker, Adrienne Adams, to schedule a vote.

Adding to the momentum, last week 11 members of Congress from the city signed a letter supporting the bill. Representative Adriano Espaillat, a longtime ally of Adams, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, were among the signees.

Here’s what Emma G. Fitzsimmons, our City Hall bureau chief, told me about the bill.

What changes would it mandate?

It will limit the use of solitary confinement in city jails in most cases. Right now, detainees can spend long periods alone — up to 23 hours a day as punishment for violent offenses, although jail officials say that 17 hours is typical in such situations, giving the inmates seven hours out of their cells.

The bill would limit the time alone to four hours in urgent situations and would require all inmates to have at least 14 hours outside of cells each day.

How many inmates are held in solitary confinement in city jails?

Mayor Eric Adams prefers to use the term “punitive segregation,” which involves separating violent detainees in a restrictive housing area. Last year, the head of the Correction Department said there were 117 people in restrictive housing at that time.

Does solitary confinement impede the rehabilitation of inmates?

A large body of research links solitary confinement to increased risks for self-harm and suicide, worsened mental illness and higher rates of death after release. There are also racial disparities in its use; Black and Latino people are more likely to be put in solitary confinement.

Several people have died after being held at the Rikers Island jail complex over the last decade in solitary confinement, including Kalief Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack and detained there for three years.

What does the mayor say?

He opposes the City Council bill and is urging members to vote against it. He says that some violent detainees should be separated to protect jail workers and other detainees.

He has used his background as a former police officer to say that he understands the issue better than the Council. Shortly before becoming mayor, he said: “I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, you have the right to question me on safety and public safety matters.”

The mayor and the correction officers’ union, which also opposes the bill, are continuing to lobby against it. Could it be defeated? What happens if the Council passes it and the mayor vetoes it?

The mayor and the correction officers’ union will be making the case before the vote on Wednesday that the bill is dangerous. A bill needs a majority of votes in the 51-member council to pass, and it has 38 sponsors, which is more than enough.

But that coalition will have to stick together under pressure.

If the mayor vetoes the bill, the Council can override it with a two-thirds majority.

The bill stalled after a City Council hearing last year. What held it up, and what broke the logjam?

The Council heard from jail officials, union leaders, advocates and the families of people who died in solitary confinement. The bill’s supporters say Adams was unwilling to negotiate a compromise.

The unions that represent health care workers at Rikers Island were another factor. The Council negotiated with them, and on Monday, a major union — 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East — endorsed the ban. George Gresham, the president of 1199SEIU, said in a statement that ending solitary confinement was “long overdue and necessary to building a fairer and more effective criminal justice system.”


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In effect until Dec. 25 (Christmas Day).

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Credit…Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times
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‘A jokester and a national joke’

Credit…Ziwe, via YouTube

A year ago today, The New York Times reported that George Santos’s résumé was largely fiction. At the time, Santos was a little more than two weeks away from being sworn in as a member of Congress.

On Monday, just over two weeks after being expelled from the House, Santos appeared in a 17-minute interview with Ziwe Fumudoh, who is known for asking uncomfortable questions. “One jokester and a national joke,” a voice-over announcer said, introducing the interview.

“What can we do to get you to go away?” Fumudoh asked at one point.

“Stop inviting me to your gigs,” he replied.

“So the lesson,” Fumudoh said later, “is to stop inviting you places.”

“But you can’t,” he replied. “Because people want the content.”

My colleague Grace Ashford writes that for once, it was the truth. Santos has managed to remain visible. He has also mined his status as a disgraced ex-congressman for profit, charging $500 for each video he records through the platform Cameo. And he has a private subscription service on, where he has promised to share scandalous details about his former colleagues in Congress.

In the interview with Fumudoh, Santos mostly sidestepped sharp questions, such as when she tried to pin him down on topics like his use of campaign funds. He was rarely on the defensive, even when he acknowledged that he wasn’t familiar with queer luminaries like James Baldwin (“Who the hell is James Baldwin?” Santos asked) and Harvey Milk (“I’ve no clue who that is,” he said).

When Fumudoh asked who else in Congress was committing fraud, he replied, “They’re all frauds.”

“If you were to put them all under the same scrutiny I was put under, you’d vacate the whole building,” he said, adding an expletive.

Santos was even willing to play on the pending criminal case against him for a gag — joking near the end of the show about wanting to keep Fumodoh’s signature for some presumably fraudulent purpose. Santos has pleaded not guilty to 23 felony charges but has begun negotiating with prosecutors in hopes of avoiding a trial.


40 Winks

Dear Diary:

It was some years ago, and I was a third-year obstetric resident at one of New York City’s major hospitals.

After a particularly grueling week, I had finally settled down to sleep in the call room on the hospital’s first floor. Within minutes, my beeper sounded, and I was called to perform a C-section on the top floor.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled into the elevator and pushed the button. Halfway up, the elevator shuddered to a halt and went dark.

Using the elevator phone, I called the ward nurse.

“I’m stuck in the elevator and need you to grab one of the other residents to do the C-section,” I said. “Also, please call maintenance, but tell them no hurry.”

I hung up, curled up in the corner of the elevator and immediately fell asleep.

The next thing I knew, the doors opened, and a maintenance man walked into the car.

I blinked.

“So soon?” I said.

He gave me a puzzled look.

“Lady,” he said, “you’ve been stuck in here for two hours.”

— Emily Hartzog

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Ed Shanahan and Bernard Mokam contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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