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Posted under: Politics

New York City To End Solitary Confinement By The End Of The Year After Death Of Layleen Polanco

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the city would look into ending the practice for all prisoners this fall.

New York City will stop placing medically vulnerable incarcerated people into solitary confinement, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

During a press conference on Monday, de Blasio said the city would look into creating a plan to end all solitary confinement before October, NBC News reported

The move comes after Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a trans woman, died in solitary confinement at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex last year. 

According to a document released by Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals, the city will no longer allow people to be placed in solitary confinement if they are pregnant, have mental health issues, or have a chronic health issue or disability. Any person who has received an organ transplant is also ineligible for solitary confinement. 

“Let’s take the next step. We have proven that we can keep jails safe with much less use of solitary confinement punitive segregation,” de Blasio told reporters.

De Blasio referenced the death of Kalief Browder as one of the main reasons why the city was eager to end solitary confinement. Browder died by suicide in 2015 after being held on Rikers Island for three years on charges that were eventually thrown out. He spent about two years in solitary confinement, The New York Times reported

The mayor also spoke about Polanco's death and the city's desire for no one to suffer the way she did. 

"We ended [solitary confinement] already for young people, and New York City led the way in this nation in addressing the fact that we should not have young people in solitary confinement. We all remember the tragedy of Kalief Browder, and we acted on the lessons of that tragedy. He did not die in vain," de Blasio said.

"But then we saw another tragedy recently, Layleen Polanco. Layleen Polanco should not have been in Rikers to begin with. Layleen Polanco should not have been in solitary confinement and lord knows, she deserves justice. Her family deserves justice, the transgender community deserves justice. We have to right the wrong. We can't bring her back, but we can make change so that no one else goes through such a tragedy," he added.

Polanco died from an epileptic seizure on June 7, 2019, following a harrowing experience in the Rose M. Singer Center jail on Rikers Island last year. As Blavity previously reported, Polanco was arrested on minor charges and was placed in solitary confinement after an altercation. 

She was sentenced to 20 days in a cell alone and told doctors she was having suicidal thoughts before she was moved. A psychiatrist pushed back against the sentence due to Polanco's history of seizures, but a doctor cleared her for solitary confinement anyways. 

In light of her death, the city suspended three officers and one captain without pay and gave an unknown punishment to 13 other officers, according to NBC. 

“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city. What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that there is accountability,” de Blasio said in a statement on Friday. 

The New York City Department of Correction released a report last week indicating that jail officials made a number of mistakes that led to Polanco's death. 

“She should have never been in solitary confinement. Had we done this work where the mayor said what he said today a year and a half ago, we wouldn't have or we perhaps wouldn't have had a Layleen Polanco,” Board of Correction Vice Chair Stanley Richards told NBC. 

De Blasio added that a working group would be created to study how prisons and jails in the city can end the practice for everyone. Richards told NBC that recommendations will be presented before October and that a vote will be held before the new rules are enacted. 

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