City Hall, NY – Today, Speaker Adrienne Adams delivered opening remarks at the Council’s Committee on Criminal Justice hearing on Introduction 549, which would ban the use of solitary confinement in city jails.
Below are the Speaker’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, I am Speaker Adrienne Adams, and I’d like to thank Chair Rivera for convening this hearing today on Introduction 549, which would ban solitary confinement in city jails. I would like to acknowledge my colleagues and everyone here today participating in this hearing, including families and individuals who have been affected by solitary confinement, the workers in our jail system, advocates, and the general public. I want to acknowledge that I know this is a very emotional and difficult topic for many, but respect and order must be maintained in this chamber.
“Our goal must be to ensure everyone in our jail system is safe – those who are detained and those who work in the jails every day. We all should have a shared objective of safety, and our focus should be on achieving it for all. The abusive use of solitary confinement has been shown by data and study after study to be ineffective at both reducing violence by individuals and increasing safety across correctional facilities. The practice also has negative impacts on a person’s health, creating and exacerbating mental health conditions, which we have all too often seen lead to devastating and deadly outcomes. This only undermines safety within our jail system and outside of it when individuals are released back into their communities.
“In Illinois’ Cook County jail, where the use of solitary confinement was eliminated in place of alternative solutions, assaults on people in custody and staff plummeted. Other states that have moved away from solitary confinement, such as Colorado, Mississippi, and Maine have seen corresponding reductions in assaults and other violent behavior.
“We have to move towards practices that help make everyone in our jails safer, and we have to do that together with safety as our driving motivation – one that should bring us together in agreement towards this shared outcome. This cannot be about demonizing or punishing people on either side, but rather keeping everyone safe. We must realize that there are solutions that serve everyone’s best interests and there are best practices that should be a bridge.
“We don’t want to see anyone harmed, and I know families throughout our city share that sentiment. As the daughter of a former Department of Correction officer, I care equally for the workers in our system and those detained within it. I learned that from my mother, who modeled it for me, and despite her no longer being with us, the commitment remains with me.
“The abusive use of solitary confinement is a false solution and a counterproductive practice. That does not mean that when there is violence in our jails, we sit idly by and allow harm to continue. We have to hold people accountable for harm and violence, and enact solutions that reduce violence in the first place by taking proven rehabilitative approaches. Our goal is to move our city towards policies and practices that are in the best interest of all New Yorkers.
“We must always maintain a focus on safety and be driven by it, with a parallel commitment to our laws and the mission of the Department of Correction. These are not in conflict. The Department of Correction’s stated mission to create a safe and supportive environment while providing individuals in its care with a path to successfully re-enter their communities is a demonstration of that reality. We know there is much work to do on this front, and are prepared to contribute to solutions, working together with all committed stakeholders. When we are guided by safeguarding the fundamental rights deserved for every person and their safety, excluding no one, we can succeed.
“The abusive use of solitary confinement does everyone in jail systems, and outside of them, a disservice. New York State recognized the traumatic impact of solitary confinement in 2021 and passed the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT, which limited the use of segregated confinement and restricted the amount of time that an individual could be placed in solitary confinement.
“Similarly, the New York City Board of Correction has also recognized the need for changes. The Department of Correction itself has undergone changes to these practices throughout the years, which have not been without challenges. We have an opportunity to move forward in a way that is responsible and serves all New Yorkers – the families of people who work in our system and those detained within it, who at the end of the day simply want to see their loved ones return home healthy and safe.
“As the City moves to close Rikers by 2027, it is important that we end practices that fail to keep people healthy and safe, undermine rehabilitation, and severely threaten successful re-entry into communities. Instead, we must be enacting policies and practices that fulfill those goals.
“As I said when announcing my support for the need for New York City to pass a law on solitary confinement, we’re seeking to facilitate a comprehensive and sensible legislative process that gathers input from all stakeholders, and is guided by data, evidence and best practices. This hearing is the first step in that process, and I welcome all who will testify before this Council. I look forward to hearing from stakeholders today, seeking broad expertise, and remaining engaged in this process.