In January 2015, the city's Board of Correction voted to end solitary confinement for inmates 21 and under and to replace it with a new "Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit" on Rikers Island. That change was supposed to be fully in effect by January 2016, but six months later, there are still 16 inmates between the ages of 19 and 21 in solitary at the jail complex. Now it looks like they'll be staying there a little longer: yesterday, the Board approved another request from the Department of Correction to extend the deadline, despite pushback from advocates who argued for the need to immediately end punitive segregation.

On June 30th, the DOC ended solitary for 18-year-old inmates, but on the same day penned a letter to the Board asking for a six-month extension on doing so for inmates between 19 and 21 years of age. DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte wrote that when the DOC started increasing the number of young adults housed together in the George Motchan Detention Center on Rikers, transferring "high-risk young adults" into the facility, it experienced an uptick in slashings and instances of inmates refusing orders, which DOC directly attributed to those additional "high-risk" inmates.

Speaking before the oversight board yesterday, Ponte called it a "safety issue," and said that GMDC was "very chaotic...We were having significant problems in the building. It took us a couple weeks to get our arms around why."

"We really expected too much too soon," he told the Board.

But advocates deemed the DOC's plea for an extension an "eleventh-hour request," and noted that as recently as June 28th, the department had told members of its Adolescent and Young Adult Advisory Board that the June 30th deadline would be met.

"Punitive segregation is not a 'meaningful tool,'" argued Sarah Kerr of the Legal Aid Society, citing Ponte's letter to the Board. "In New York City there is no correlation that increased use of punitive segregation reduces violence. Punitive segregation is a failed practice, increasingly discredited and limited by the world community, and determined to cause damage to developing brains in young persons and young adults."

The New York Civil Liberties Union similarly urged the Board to reject the DOC's request at last night's meeting: Ruthie Epstein, NYCLU's Deputy Advocacy Director, argued that it's "unclear that the DOC can definitively point to the removal of young adults from solitary as the cause of the increase in violence last month, nor is it clear what safeguards the DOC put into place in anticipation of June’s population increase at GMDC. We strongly caution against any conclusion that solitary confinement is the only way to prevent violence among young adults on Rikers."

Epstein and Kerr were joined by representatives from Brooklyn Defender Services and the Children's Defense Fund in asking the Board to deny the extension on ending solitary. Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm similarly urged the Board to hold the DOC accountable for its failures, noting that "many [young adults] have been placed in punitive segregation for significantly longer than the 60-day limit in six months. This is deeply troubling since the United Nations considers any period over 15 days torture."

Additionally, several members of the Board itself said they were surprised by the DOC's last-minute request, as they'd been under the impression that punitive segregation for all inmates 21 and under would be phased out by June 30th.

"What can you offer to mitigate the horror that we know accrues to the young adults locked in 23 hours a day?" demanded Bryanne Hamill, a BOC member and a former judge.

Despite opposition to the DOC's request, the Board ultimately approved the extension with a unanimous vote—but with a number of conditions, and only for three months, not the six that Ponte initially asked for. (In a July 11th letter, he amended his request to allow for a shorter extension.) The new deadline for ending solitary confinement of inmates 21 and under is October 11th, and the DOC will have to provide an update on its progress in September.

In the meantime, the DOC will have to construct an area that will allow young adults in punitive segregation to be out of their cells for at least four hours a day, including two and a half hours of programming, whereas historically they've only gotten two hours of recreation time a day. Currently, facilities can request to keep people in solitary for longer than the current maximum of 30 consecutive days or 60 days within six months, but per the conditions set by the Board in this vote, they'll no longer be able to override those maximums for young adults. Other conditions include detailed reporting requirements for the DOC, and more extensive request processes for moving people to punitive segregation in the first place.

Mayor de Blasio has championed the end of solitary on Rikers for young adults and touted the "enhanced supervision" units that'll replace the practice as a positive reform (though some argue they're still too punitive and restrictive). This is now the fourth time that the DOC, a mayoral agency, has requested an extension on the deadline set last January. In a statement, City Hall spokesperson Monica Klein said that "the administration ended punitive segregation for 16-17 year-olds in December 2014, and has now eliminated it for 18 year-olds. We are fully committed to ending punitive segregation for 19-21 year-olds and opening safe, therapeutic, age-appropriate alternatives for inmates who commit violent acts."

"Every day that a young person spends in solitary confinement is a day where they are subject to brutal conditions that pose a risk to their mental health and may damage them irreversibly," Epstein said. "The Department of Correction has not demonstrated that removing young adults from solitary confinement at Rikers has, on its own, increased jail violence. There is no question that we must get young people out of solitary confinement as quickly as possible."