Sponsor of New Jersey Solitary Confinement Bill Vows Override Fight

By: - December 7, 2016 12:00 am

Bebeto Matthews/Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Protest solitary

Candie Hailey, center, speaks before a rally calling for an end to solitary confinement in New York. Increasingly, states are overhauling solitary confinement practices in prisons and jails. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have curtailed its use in the state.

© The Associated Press

The sponsor of a New Jersey bill that would have dramatically curtailed solitary confinement in state prisons and jails is vowing to seek an override of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto this week.

Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak acknowledged that a successful override would be “difficult.” But he said he plans to ask faith leaders to lobby Republican legislators to support the override.

“Ending the abuse of solitary confinement is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s both a humane issue and a practical one since the damage done often embitters inmates and makes rehabilitation impossible,” Lesniak said.

In October, New Jersey became the latest state to attempt to overhaul solitary confinement practices, as legislatures re-examine their criminal justice systems and weigh whether their incarceration practices create more problems than they solve. As many as 100,000 inmates spent time in solitary confinement, also known as segregated, administrative or restrictive housing, in federal and state prisons and local jails last year in the U.S.

The New Jersey bill sought to ban prison officials from putting juvenile, pregnant, elderly, gay and transgender inmates in state prisons and local jails. For all other inmates, solitary would be a last resort limited to no more than 15 days at a time with strict supervision by a medical professional.

New Jersey corrections officials opposed the bill because they said it is too broad and does not give them the leeway to handle dangerous inmates.

Christie vetoed the bill Monday, saying it would severely limit the Department of Corrections’ “ability to ensure a safe environment for inmates and correctional staff alike.” 

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.