New Jersey will dramatically limit how its state prisons and county jails use solitary confinement, under a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday.
The bill will exempt certain “vulnerable” inmates from being kept in isolation and lessen the use of the practice on prisoners for whom solitary confinement is deemed necessary.
“I don’t think it can be overstated how real this is for so many people who’ve been really mentally, emotionally, and spiritually tortured through long-term isolation,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury.
“It comes down to liberation and freedom from long-term isolation, which many have suffered from for decades upon decades in New Jersey’s prisons,” he added.
Prison reform advocates praised Murphy’s signing of the bill, which they say will help limit a practice that can have long-term consequences for inmates who endure the isolation.
“All signs are pointing to this as being landmark, groundbreaking legislation that would effectively abandon outdated correctional models that just do not work,” said Pastor Amos Caley, a lead organizer of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.
Murphy signed the bill in private, saying in a press release that he was committed to transforming the state’s criminal-justice system.
Marcus Hicks, acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections, previously denied using solitary confinement but said the state does put some inmates in “restrictive housing” for safety reasons.
Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure in 2016, saying at the time that the state did not use solitary confinement on its prisoners.