New York City’s incoming mayor wants to reinstate solitary confinement

Mayor-elect Eric Adams wants to resume solitary “without it being inhumane” — whatever that means.

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams (R) announces Keechant Sewell to be the new New York police com...

Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s time in Gracie Mansion was not, by most standards, a particularly successful one. Mostly known for killing a groundhog, flubbing a quixotic presidential race, and having the city’s police department run roughshod over him and his family, de Blasio as mayor was largely a disappointment, especially given he initially ran for office as a progressive champion. On one front, however, de Blasio managed to make some sincere steps toward turning New York into a more just, equitable place: prison reform. Beyond introducing a roadmap to shutter the city’s infamous Rikers Island jail, de Blasio also vowed to end solitary confinement — a move hailed by most, though not all, criminal justice advocates as a significant pivot away from what is widely recognized as a form of torture. And in his final days in office, he did just that, scheduling to move all isolated inmates back into their respective jail’s general population as one of his last major acts of prison reform.

But with de Blasio’s term winding down, and incoming mayor Eric Adams about to take his place as mayor, that achievement is poised to be rolled back. Adams — a former police officer — has made a conspicuous point to reinstate solitary confinement in NYC jails, no matter what.

“So the mayor announced Dec. 31 he’s going to empty out punitive segregation,” Adams said during a press conference this past Thursday. “They better enjoy that one-day reprieve because Jan. 1, they’re going back into punitive segregation if they commit a violent act.”

Adams claimed he would pursue a policy of “segregation without it being inhumane,” though he did not offer much detail on what that would actually entail.

Beyond his career as a police officer, Adams also enjoys close ties with the law firm representing the city’s corrections officers, which previously balked at efforts to end solitary confinement. But it’s his time as a cop that Adams has fallen back on in the face of immediate pushback from the New York City Council over his pro-solitary confinement stance.

“As council member for the 22nd District, I represent every single human being caged on Rikers Island,” Tiffany Cabán explained. “That means that any time an incarcerated person is thrown in solitary confinement, one of my constituents is being subjected to torture.” Cabán and a majority of the council have written to Adams demanding he walk back his planned resumption of the practice.

In an acrimonious response to the council members, Adams blasted their letter, telling reporters Tuesday that he was going to “ignore” the critics and that he “wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city.”

“When [the council members] do that, then you have the right to question me,” he sneered, seemingly either unaware or entirely uninterested in how the relationship between mayor and council actually works.

For the time being, then, it seems as if one of the few genuine strides forward in New York City’s quest for a more just and equitable society will be backtracked by a mayor willing to display a strong authoritarian streak and little much interest in sharing power with his fellow elected officials. Enjoy the Adams era, New York City. Seems like it’s gonna be a rocky few years.