Christie's veto of solitary confinement bill is senseless and cruel | Editorial

It may have something to do with another, unrelated bill Lesniak is sponsoring, which would appoint a special prosecutor to examine the governor's misbehavior in the Bridgegate scandal. For that, Christie called him "a lunatic" and "a crazy quack."
 
You wonder what he thinks of the vast majority of voters in this state, who said in a recent poll that he should have been charged in Bridgegate. Are they lunatics, too?
 
Regardless, it's inexcusable for him to take this out on children and other vulnerable people languishing for months in solitary. Many faith-based and civil rights groups signed on to this protective bill he just dismissed as a "juvenile" prank.
 
To defend his veto, Christie reiterated a claim from corrections officials, that New Jersey does not use solitary confinement, period. This is a load of nonsense.
 
For one, the ACLU has found many instances of prisoners held alone in cells for long periods. More importantly, it is common in New Jersey for inmates to be isolated in pairs, two to a cell, unable to mix with anyone else. The research is clear: that form of isolation is just as damaging.
 
The U.S. Department of Justice defines solitary as being confined to a room for at least 22 hours a day: alone or with one other person. Is Christie just misinformed about that, or is this another of his flat-out lies?
 
The damage is not theoretical. The science shows that the psychological harm stems from the long stretches of isolation. It can cause everything from bouts of paranoia to violent outbursts and hallucinations. Leaving aside the cruelty, this practice puts the public at risk, with many studies showing prisoners who were held in solitary are more likely to commit new crimes once they are released.
 
Lesniak's bill would ban solitary unless it's necessary to prevent harm. And it would ban use of solitary for especially vulnerable people like juveniles, pregnant women or the mentally ill. They could still be segregated from most other inmates, but not put in total isolation; they'd have to be able to interact with small groups of people.
 
New rules at the Department of Corrections place some limits on solitary, but they are weak and wholly insufficient. They still allow prison officials to place inmates in solitary for up to a year for a single offense. And they provide no added protections for children or pregnant women.
 
The rules provide some protections for the mentally ill, but they need to be codified into law. Otherwise, the department could change its internal policy on a whim. And the rules provide no means for inmates to go to court to challenge prison doctors who declare them fit for solitary based on a cursory evaluation, one that could be influenced by corrections staff.
 
Christie signed a bill last year to ensure kids in the juvenile system can't be held in solitary for more than five days at a time. But juveniles who end up in adult prisons have no such protection, even though the brain science shows juveniles are particularly vulnerable, as are the mentally ill.
 
Our failure to protect these people is not only immoral, it's dangerous. In treating Lesniak's bill like nothing more than a silly stunt, Christie puts us all at risk.

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