NYC Defies Mayor Adams to Ban Solitary Confinement, Rein In NYPD

    The New York City Council has overwhelmingly approved a package of police and jail reforms, in defiance of Mayor Eric Adams (D). Now, New York Police Department officers will be required to keep regular data on the people they stop and interact with, while the city’s jails will be banned from putting people in solitary confinement.

    The council originally approved two measures on December 20. But Adams, a former NYPD cop who ran for office on a “tough on crime” platform, had other plans. He vetoed both bills on January 19. On January 30, the council responded by backing the bills again, with a 42-9 vote—enough to override the mayor’s vetoes and make the reforms law.

    One of the bills requires NYPD officers to report any interactions with civilians—not just arrests. If a cop stops you and asks for your ID, or asks you anything about what you’re doing, they’ll now have to make a record of this, including your demographics.

    The second bill ends use of solitary confinement in NYC jails—a practice designated as torture by the United Nations if continued for more than 15 days. Any person detained at Rikers Island or another jail will now be entitled to at least 14 hours per day outside of their cell and in communal spaces.

    “Communities that were working on these bills did a very good job combating Mayor Adams’ misinformation.”

    “The Mayor has made it clear since he took office that his approach to public safety is increasing funding and empowering NYPD to continue with regressive policing policies from the Giuliani era, rooted in stop-and-frisk,” Yonah Zeitz, director of advocacy with the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, told Filter. “We’ve seen the Mayor continue to invest in policing while divesting from things we know keep people safe—like housing, education, health care and jobs—and doing everything he can to increase the jail population.”

    Zeitz credited stubborn resistance from community groups and advocates, working with councilmembers and other elected officials like NYC Public Advocate Jumanne Williams, for the Democrat-dominated council’s decision to undermine a mayor from the same party.

    Adams claimed the bills would make jails less safe for incarcerated people and corrections officers, and make the city less safe by adding unnecessary work for police officers. NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban also blasted the police bill, saying the reporting requirement would take away “time our officers should and must be spending out on the street doing their jobs.”

    “He did everything he could to try to block the override,” Zeitz said of Adams. “He waged a major public misinformation campaign about these two bills. He brought it up in dozens of interviews around other issues the last couple weeks. But communities that were working on these bills for a long time were very organized, and did a very good job combating his misinformation and laid out to the city council what these bills are and what they do.”

    There’s been no data on how many people are affected by lower-level police interactions, or who these people are.

    Advocates argued that the police bill was needed to prevent racially targeted “Level 1 and 2” stops. Previously, the NYPD was only required to report stops categorized as Level 3—meaning “stop-and-frisk” searches—or higher. As a result, there’s been no data on how many people are affected by lower-level police interactions, or who these people are.

    During Adams’ time in office, the NYPD has continued making racially discriminatory stop-and-frisks, with the department’s own investigation finding that many of these are illegal and unconstitutional. About 90 percent of drivers stopped and arrested in 2022 were Black or Latinx. So it’s likely that lower-level stops are similarly targeted. The bill requires cops to report the age, gender, race, ethnicity and other information about anyone they stop, and this can be used to identify patterns of abuse going forward.

    “Last year I was subject to a pre-text stop in the 107th precinct, an action that was part of the NYPD’s discriminatory practice of targeting Black and Brown New Yorkers,” said Victor Herrera, a member of Freedom Agenda, in a statement after the January 30 council vote. “Asserting my rights led to the precinct unlawfully reporting me as an Emotionally Disturbed Person to deliberately delay the arrest process and elevate the encounter from a desk appearance ticket. With Mayor Adams emboldening and encouraging these abuses, the How Many Stops Act is an essential tool for transparency and accountability.”

    As for the solitary confinement measure, some of the loudest opposition came from the corrections officers’ union. Benny Boscio, the union president, warned it would lead to a “surge in attacks on our officers” and threatened to sue to stop the law taking effect. Mayor Adams, meanwhile, claimed in a January 21 statement that city jails don’t use solitary confinement, and stopped doing so in 2019.

    The mayor called advocates’ assertions that the practice continues as “sleight of hand,” but may have been projecting. Solitary confinement can be referred to by different terms for what amounts to the same thing, including “punitive segregation,” “restrictive housing” or “protective custody.” Investigative reporting by Gothamist found that as recently as November, Rikers Island officials locked up 10 men for 23 hours a day for almost a month. Other incarcerated people are reported to have been held in literal cages by the “de-escalation unit.”

    “When you’re in solitary you feel like you’re confined in another type of incarceration,” Dwayne Horsley, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Union, said in a statement after the January 30 vote. “It messes with your mind. Some people, if they have to fight, they take it to the extreme because you’re not just confined from society, but the general population too. It’s a very lonely feeling and it messes with your head.”

    “This is just a start. We know these two bills are not going to transform or close Rikers, or transform the NYPD.”

    Zeitz explained that the bills will take effect not immediately but over a months-long period, during which the NYPD and Department of Correction must determine how to implement them.

    Rikers Island is slated to be closed by 2027 but Mayor Adams has cast doubt on the timeline. The jail complex has seen a disturbing, consistent pattern of abuses, violence and other human rights and safety issues. In January alone there have been two deaths at the jails, making a total of 30 lives lost there since Adams took office.

    The city is currently battling in federal court just to keep its authority over Rikers. The plaintiffs, including Legal Aid Society and the US Attorney for the southern New York district, are asking a judge to fire the city leadership and appoint an independent receiver to take over responsibility for running the jails. A decision won’t come until March.

    “This is just a start,” Zeitz said of the new legislation. “We know these two bills are not going to transform or close Rikers, or transform the NYPD. What we’re focused on is building on these bills. There shouldn’t be solitary confinement in NYC jails, [but also] the jails are still not safe and we need to be doing more to reduce the jail population and get people who don’t need to be in our city jails out, then following through with the city’s commitment to close Rikers. That is the only solution that will keep incarcerated people safe.”


    Image by Thomas Hawk used via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

    • Show Comments

    You May Also Like