New York City will end solitary confinement in its jails and prisons. Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement on Monday, over one year after the death of trans woman Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco. Polanco passed away while in solitary confinement at a Rikers Island facility.
A jail psychiatrist had refused to clear Polanco for solitary confinement because she had a history of epileptic seizures. However, staff members circumvented the psychiatrist’s recommendation and put her in a solitary confinement facility anyway. She passed away after a seizure.
Security footage from outside of Polanco’s cell further revealed that while Polanco was unresponsive, guards laughed and waited 90 minutes before calling for help.
Polanco was being held on a $501 bail for a charge dating back to 2017 for prostitution. According to an official report from the Board of Corrections, she kept from the general population of women because she was trans.
“She should have never been in solitary confinement,” Board of Correction Vice Chair Stanley Richards told NBC News.
As of this week, 17 officers have been disciplined for their behavior during Polanco’s death, four of whom were suspended without pay.
Per Mayor de Blasio’s announcement, solitary confinement will end for all medically vulnerable prisoners immediately. A city working group will present a plan for ending the practice for all prisoners by the end of September.
“Had we done this work where the mayor said what he said today a year and a half ago, we wouldn’t have or we perhaps wouldn’t have had a Layleen Polanco,” Richards said.
Still, Eliel Cruz of the New York City Anti-Violence Project calls de Blasio’s announcement “insufficient.” The group says the officers involved in Polanco’s death must be fired, and solitary confinement should end immediately for all prisoners.
Activists are also demanding an end to cash bail, among other reforms. “It is devastating that had Layleen been able to make her $500 bail, she would not have been in Rikers at all,” Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement, per Associated Press. “The inability to pay a few hundred dollars may have meant life or death.”