Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a measure into law to restrict the use of isolated confinement after testimony that said the practice is inhumane and psychologically damaging.
The new law, which the governor signed on July 11, prohibits isolated confinement unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the inmate or others would be at substantial risk of serious harm. It also prohibits isolated confinement for vulnerable populations — those younger than 21 and older than 65 and those who are LGBTQ, are pregnant, or with disabilities — but does allow it in rare, specified circumstances. The new law requires state prisons and county jails to screen inmates for mental illness before and during isolated confinement and collect and report data on the use of such confinement.
The governor says the new law will advance a humane correctional system that allows for the safe operation of facilities.
The Department of Corrections acting commissioner Marcus O. Hicks says it codifies existing department policies into law and prevents wrongful overuse of isolated confinement in the state by future administrations.
The new law does not end solitary confinement in the state. It simply limits it to 20 straight days and 30 nonconsecutive days over two months. The new solitary confinement restrictions take effect Aug. 1, 2020.