TRENTON, NJ - Legislation championed by Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) to restrict the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons was signed into law Thursday by Governor Phil Murphy.
The new law, known as the “Isolated Confinement Restriction Act,” prohibits the use of isolated confinement in correctional facilities unless there is reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary to reduce the risk of serious harm to the inmate in question or others. A facility is responsible for justifying the use of isolated confinement.
“In addition to this being a moral issue, it’s also a serious health care concern. Solitary confinement very often is associated with anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide,” said Sumter who also serves as director of Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital. “This is a method that should be employed as a last resort only in extreme cases and with extreme care. A convict may have committed a crime, but he or she is still a human being and deserves to be treated as such.”
Under the law, inmates are required to receive a personal and comprehensive medical and mental health examination, conducted by a medical professional, before being placed in isolated confinement. An inmate also must be afforded the opportunity to contest the confinement within 72 hours of placement and must be removed from isolation if the facility administrator determines that he or she no longer meets the standard for isolated confinement.
Faith communities in New Jersey have campaigned tirelessly over the past seven years in support of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, according to an email sent by Reverend Charles Boyer, the founder of Salvation and Social Justice, soon after the signing.
“Hundreds of houses of worship and faith leaders have expressed support for restricting the use of isolated confinement. Our communities witness first-hand the condition of men and women returning home, sometimes straight from isolation cells to our neighborhoods and houses of worship,” the email continued. “Far too often survivors are less capable of meaningful engagement in society because of the senseless trauma they have endured.”
Keeping inmates in solitary confinement, the law’s sponsors said, also multiplies the cost of incarceration, another factor considered in advancing the legislation.
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