Teen sues jail over 23-day confinement
A Syracuse, NY (Onondaga County) teenager is suing the Onondaga County Justice Center for locking him in a cell 23 hours a day for more than two months.
Taijaleke Smith, 16, has a history of mental illness and went nearly two months without counseling or educational services, said his lawyer, Joshua Cotter. Smith’s only time out of his cell was for an hour of recreation, and he often remained shackled hands and feet during that hour, Syracuse.com reported.
The state prison system has agreed to no longer keep 16- and 17-year-olds in a solitary cell for 23 hours a day. It also agreed to overhaul the use of solitary confinement for all inmates.
Officials across the state and nation are reconsidering the use of solitary confinement, especially for young people who can be especially prone to suffer negative consequences. The isolation has been linked to increased mental illness and suicides, Syracuse.com reported.
States including California, Washington and Colorado have already begun sweeping reforms to reduce the use of solitary confinement. New York’s prison system projected in December it will spend $62 million to cut its use by 25 percent, or roughly from 4,000 to 3,000 inmates.
Smith, of 1116 Park Street, was one of four teens charged in the Oct. 13 robbery of a pizza deliveryman with an air gun styled like a sub-machine gun and a baseball bat. Smith was sent to the Syracuse downtown jail. He was taken out of the general inmate population Oct. 21 after a fight with another teen on a basketball court. One custody sergeant was injured during the fight and had to be treated at a hospital.
After more than two months in 23-hour-a-day confinement, Smith was released from the jail Jan. 8 after pleading guilty to second-degree robbery before County Court Judge Thomas J. Miller. He was released for time served.
Image: Flickr/Samantha Marx