TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today signed A314 into law, which restricts the use of isolated confinement in New Jersey’s correctional facilities. The legislation codifies into law certain existing New Jersey Department of Corrections policies, places limits on the use of long-term isolated confinement, and restricts the use of isolated confinement on vulnerable populations.
“By signing this historic legislation, we are furthering our commitment to the continued transformation of our criminal justice system and ensuring it reflects New Jersey’s core values of safety, dignity, and fairness,” said Governor Murphy. “I am proud to stand together with New Jersey’s criminal justice reform advocates and legislators to advance a humane correctional system that allows for the safe operation of facilities and focuses on strengthening reentry initiatives, substance use disorder treatment, and recovery programs.”
“This bill will codify certain existing New Jersey Department of Corrections policies into law and prevent isolated confinement from wrongful overuse in the state of New Jersey by future Administrations,” said New Jersey Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks. “The Department of Corrections strives to rehabilitate the offender population and prepare them for success. Limiting the overuse of isolated confinement will further assist the Department in achieving this goal.”
The bill prohibits inmates incarcerated or detained in correctional facilities from being placed in isolated confinement unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the inmate or others would be at substantial risk of serious harm as evidenced by recent threats or conduct, and that any less restrictive intervention would be insufficient to reduce that risk, subject to certain limited exceptions. Furthermore, members of vulnerable populations, including individuals under 21 and over 65, individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, and LGBTQ individuals, are prohibited from being placed in isolated confinement except in rare, specified circumstances.
The bill further provides that no inmate is to be placed in isolated confinement for more than 20 consecutive days, or for more than 30 days during any 60-day period.
Primary sponsors of the legislation include Senators Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham, and Assemblymembers Nancy Pinkin, Shavonda E. Sumter, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle.
“The excess use of isolated confinement has led to severe consequences for the physical and mental health of incarcerated men and women,” said Senator Pou. “When this country was founded, we vowed that Americans would be free from the fear of cruel and unusual punishment. Unregulated isolated confinement does not meet that standard and I am proud that today, in New Jersey, we will be treating incarcerated people with the dignity they deserve."
“Our state holds over 5 percent of its detainees in solitary confinement, despite extensive evidence that is causes lasting mental health damage,” said Senator Cunningham. “Using it with the regularity that we do is not only unnecessary but unjust. Unless a person is of clear and present danger to those around them, they should not be placed in isolated confinement. This legislation is long overdue and I am grateful to see it signed into law.”
“There is significant proof that solitary confinement can have a severe, long-term negative impact on an inmate’s mental health,” said Assemblywoman Pinkin. “The overuse of isolation in New Jersey’s correctional facilities can cause irreparable psychological damage that affects people while they are in prison and detracts from former inmates’ ability to make positive contributions to their communities thereafter.”
“In addition to this being a moral issue, it’s also a serious health care concern. Solitary confinement very often is associated with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide,” said Assemblywoman Sumter, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital. “This is a method that should be employed as a last resort, only in extreme cases, and with extreme care. A convict may have committed a crime, but he or she is still a human being and deserves to be treated as such.”
“For children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, the effects of solitary confinement – which can have a damaging effect on anyone – are downright devastating,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “As New Jersey works to reform its criminal justice system by prohibiting the arbitrary overuse of solitary confinement, it’s important that we emphasize protecting members of these vulnerable populations.”
“I am extremely encouraged by Governor Murphy’s historic move to restrict the use of isolated confinement in New Jersey’s prisons,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury and the founder of Salvation and Social Justice. “This is one of the most compassionate, progressive, and morally just solitary laws in the nation.”
“The voices of survivors of solitary confinement, and their strength in summoning up some of the worst moments of their lives to stop the routine use of prolonged isolation, have been the moral ballast responsible for making these historic restrictions law,” said J. Amos Caley, Lead Organizer of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and Associate Pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park. “The power of this movement – led by survivors who have refused to stand by while others experience the agony of prolonged isolation – can serve as a guide for others around the nation to act on the imperative of ending long-term solitary confinement.”
“The agony of solitary confinement is that it doesn’t just lock up your body – it locks in your mind,” said Nafeesah Goldsmith, a community organizer and a survivor of solitary confinement. “For New Jersey to institute dramatic restrictions on solitary acknowledges the suffering we’ve endured, along with the scars we’ll bear for the rest of our lives. I’ve said before that solitary confinement is pure evil, incapable of resulting in anything but dehumanization and degradation – but as of today, I can point to one very small exception: all that I went through strengthened my voice to bring us closer to the goal of ending this diabolical practice once and for all.”
“I am glad to see that the Governor has signed this important piece of legislation,” said Lawrence Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “It is a necessary step in the overall effort to reform the criminal justice system. The United Nations has recognized solitary confinement as a violation of human rights. This bill, which would restrict the use of solitary confinement, is a step in the right direction. I thank the Governor for signing this bill.”
"The signing of this legislation brings the U.S. closer to international standards. To deprive people of natural light, exercise, and meaningful human contact unnecessarily and for prolonged periods of time is inhumane," said Justin Mazzola, Researcher at Amnesty International USA. "Solitary confinement should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for as short a period as possible – we need more policies that reflect that."
“Prolonged isolation is cruel, undermines human dignity, and has profound, lifelong consequences,” said Laura Pitter, Deputy Director, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch. “By passing this law, New Jersey has acknowledged this fact, severely limited this horrendous practice, and furthered an important human rights standard.”
“This is another historic and enormous step forward, again, towards criminal justice reform for New Jersey,” said Cuqui Rivera, Criminal Justice Reform Chair of the Latino Action Network. “Solitary confinement is a practice that has further broken human beings already struggling with the realities and anguish of incarceration, most, who do return to our communities. This is a torturous practice that the former Administration would not even acknowledge. We applaud the Governor’s reserve in keeping his word in his signature of this legislation. In this moment in our country, watching the unbearable madness of child concentration camps ripping families apart, at least in New Jersey, we say no to torture. We stand ready to work now further towards its implementation. Thank you, Governor Murphy.”
“This law is a testament to its driving force: the voices of survivors of solitary confinement who led this movement to stop the suffering they were forced to endure,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “No law can make up for the lives that have been lost – no policy can reclaim the futures that have been sacrificed to the torment of prolonged solitary confinement – but this law acknowledges that no one deserves to forfeit their humanity in long-term isolation. This turning point for New Jersey is a milestone in a powerful, unyielding national movement. We know New Jersey’s historic step forward will inspire advocates and lawmakers throughout the country to make prolonged solitary confinement a thing of the past. We applaud Governor Murphy and the Legislature for prioritizing humanity by passing and signing this bill into law.”
“We applaud the Governor for signing the solitary confinement bill,” Richard Smith, President, New Jersey State NAACP. “We believe that, on issues related to social and economic justice, the Governor sees these issues through the lens of a former national NAACP Board member. We look forward to continuing to work with him as we transform the criminal justice system and address centuries-old problems.”