On June 20, in a historic vote, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly voted to dramatically limit the use of solitary confinement in our state’s prisons and jails, including for immigration detainees.
“Ending torture is non-negotiable,” said Justice Rountree, an organizer with the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. “Solitary confinement is torture. In that cell, I was driven to consider suicide.”
Thursday’s vote means that A314/S3261 now goes to the desk of Governor Phil Murphy, who affirmed his support for the bill during his gubernatorial campaign in 2017.
“Solitary confinement is a punishment that lasts an entire lifetime, as the survivors leading this movement have powerfully shared,” said ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Tess Borden. “It’s past time for this destructive, brutal practice to end, in New Jersey and beyond.”
The Isolated Confinement Restriction Act (A314/S3261) would limit the amount of time anyone can spend in solitary confinement and prohibit vulnerable populations from ever being placed in solitary confinement, also referred to as isolation.
“This is one step toward humanity being the standard in New Jersey,” said Ron Pierce, the Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. During his more than 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey prisons, he spent a total of about four years in solitary confinement.
Under the bill, prisons and jails could not place particularly vulnerable people in solitary confinement: people aged 21 and younger, people aged 65 and older, LGBTQ individuals, people with a developmental disability, people with a disability based on mental illness, people with serious medical conditions, and people who are pregnant.
“New Jersey now has a second chance to become a leader in the nation on criminal justice reform and humane treatment in prisons and jails – we have a responsibility not to squander that opportunity,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom.
Former Governor Chris Christie vetoed an earlier version of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act in 2016. His signing statement falsely claimed: “This Administration does not utilize isolated confinement,” an assertion that has been debunked repeatedly. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country for the number of people in held in isolation in prisons for more than six years, according to the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School.
“New Jersey needs to lead the way in the treatment of humans in state care,” said Lydia Thornton, an advocate and survivor of solitary confinement. Thornton spent nine and a half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey.
A wide coalition of advocates who aim to end the torture of solitary confinement have come together to form the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, a coalition that includes the ACLU of New Jersey, several faith-based organizations, and Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the labor union that represents nurses in New Jersey prisons.
“Our legislators have made the right choice today, as they did in 2016,” says Rev. Charles Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice. “And we trust that our governor will take the bold step necessary to ensure that New Jersey corrections system is more humane and, ultimately, safer for all involved.”