Last week, Assembly Member O’Donnell introduced A9268, which would ban solitary confinement for New York State inmates under the age of 21. The bill was referred to the Correction Committee, of which Assembly Member O’Donnell serves as Chair. Upon introducing the bill, O’Donnell announced:
A9268 would provide long-overdue protection to one of our state’s most vulnerable populations—adolescents under 21 who have been tried and sentenced as adults. New York is one of only two states that still prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and while in a recent court stipulation the Department of Corrections agreed not to place 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement, this is far from sufficient. Just as 16- and 17-year-olds are disproportionately harmed by isolation and lack of stimulation, adolescents under 21 have yet to develop fully, and solitary confinement can do irreparable damage to their brains, bodies, and minds. Despite this disturbing fact pattern, the average Special Housing Unit (SHU) stay in New York is five months, and some inmates—even adolescents—remain in SHU for years. The majority of these inmates are not in isolation for a violent offense.
My bill will improve adolescents’ chances of rehabilitation by banning their placement in isolation in SHUs, and by guaranteeing them access to sufficient mental health, education, exercise, and other programming needs, even if they are receiving other disciplinary sanctions. I call on my fellow legislators to vote in favor of this bill to address an urgent injustice being perpetrated against our young offenders, a bill that will improve their chances of returning to society as productive and crime-free individuals, and thereby improving our society as a whole.