For weeks, Mayor Eric Adams has had one argument against a bill to ban the use of solitary confinement at the City Council.

What You Need To Know

  • For weeks, Mayor Eric Adams has said solitary confinement does not exist on Rikers Island

  • So what does exist, and how does the Department of Correction isolate or punish violent detainees?

  • NY1 looked at the restrictive housing policies of the Department of Correction

“We don’t have solitary confinement,” he had said repeatedly.

Meanwhile, those on Rikers Island said something else.

Virgil Carter called into the Board of Correction, the city’s jails oversight board, in July saying: “I am currently housed in west facility CDU. My purpose for this phone call is because that Miller that runs CDU and NIC is using NIC and CDU West Facility as solitary confinement. I am told day by day that I am in CDU because of security purposes and I am being housed here for solitary confinement purposes. I have no ticket. I have not done anything wrong and I would like for this to be addressed.”

That was just one detainee confirming a claim repeated by advocates and lawyers for detainees.

“Personally, I have gone there and seen it myself,” said Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center. “There are units in North Infirmary Command or NIC and West Facility. There are units where people are locked down 23 or 24 hours a day.”

They argue the housing the department uses on Rikers to restrict dangerous detainees may not isolate people for 23 hours a day, but lockdowns and restrictions make these units close to the isolation of solitary confinement.

“There [are] rats,” said Christopher Boyle of the New York County Defender Services. “There [are] mice droppings. There are insects all around. They are screaming for attention from the officers, who are basically ignoring them.”

NY1 looked at what the department does have.

The department’s most restrictive housing operates out of the women’s jail on the island.

Detainees are supposed to get seven hours out of their cells every day versus traditional solitary confinement, where people are locked up for 23 hours.

But a report from the federal monitor in October found: “The units have not maintained the requisite staffing levels, which has led to the inability to operate the program as designed, particularly the required 7-hour lockout and programming component... This failure to properly implement the program has led to such high levels of violence and fear among people in custody that many choose to remain in their cells throughout the day, resulting in an environment that, in practice, is not substantially different from punitive segregation.”

Detainees in the most strict part of this housing must also be restrained to desks during programming.

Advocates argue other units on Rikers are reminiscent of solitary.

For instance, there is another unit at a building known as North Infirmary Command, known as involuntary protective custody.

Detainees there get 14 hours out of their cells, but they are in individual day rooms. They do not gather in large rooms together.  

If the City Council moves forward with its veto override, much of how the Department of Correction operates restrictive housing will have to change.

For instance, all detainees will have to get 14 hours out of their cells.

The legislation also states detainees in restrictive housing must get programming in congregate settings free of “physical barriers separating such people.”