TRENTON –In anticipation of a bill in the pipeline that aims to significantly curtain the practice in New Jersey’s state and local prisons, prison officials and religious leaders packed a hearing of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee this morning to debate the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey.
Sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20) — and championed amid a nationwide push to ban it by a coalition of prison reform and civil liberties groups — S2588 would regulate solitary confinement at New Jersey corrections facilities.
Advocates of the bill argued that holding inmates in isolated confinement for extended periods of time risks detrimental harm to their mental health, while representatives of the prison community, including guards and correctional facility directors, stood in opposition and said the current language of the bill could prevent facilities from amending their own best practices.
Other states, such as Texas and Mississippi — known for some of the roughest prisons in the country — are already taking steps to reform their practice, argued Alexander Shalom, a lawyer for the ACLU, during testimony in front of the committee.
“We’re here and the time is right,” he said. “New Jersey should be at the forefront of this.”
Committee members, led by chairwoman and state Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14), said they’d like to see more data on the use of solitary confinement in NJ prison, which Shalom said advocates have had a hard time obtaining.
But those who’ve worked in prisons, including the Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Mike Farcy, downplayed the use of solitary confinement in the state.
Lesniak, for his part, said the legislation has “great magnitude” throughout the United States, and solitary confinement “grave consequences” on the mental health of inmates held in isolated confinement for extended periods of time.
In addition to the debate, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee also passed a bill by Assemblymen Paul Moriarty (D-4) and Daniel Benson (D-14) to limit access to data from devices in automobiles that might capture information about the driver’s activity.
“The preservation of electronic data from any of these sources is becoming vital to the defense of litigation in accidents,” Moriarty said. “These recordings may be the most reliable and objective source of information about the events that occurred just prior to a crash. This legislation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the recordings and protect what may be used as evidence in court.”