New York state is reforming solitary confinement.

Thousands of people spend months alone in a tiny cell. New York is doing something to fix that problem.

Approximately 78,000 people currently live in New York prisons.

Almost 4,000 of them live in tiny cells the size of a bathroom, closed off from most human contact. It’s a troubling practice, which is why New York has decided to make some key changes to its solitary confinement rules.


Image by jmiller291/Flickr.

A major lawsuit recently pointed out the horrific conditions of solitary confinement.

Based on that lawsuit, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York state will now be placing fewer prisoners in solitary cells. If they are placed in solitary, the folks will stay there for a shorter time, and they won’t have to face as many extreme conditions.

While this is an incredibly important step forward, it also demonstrates how much more work needs to be done to reform prisons in America.

The thousands of people serving time in solitary confinement on a daily basis wake up in a box that’s about 6 feet by 10 feet. They often spend their entire day without any human contact or even a book to read. And sometimes, they don’t even have access to palatable, nutritious food.

In New York, the average inmate who gets sentenced to solitary confinement will stay there for 190 days.

Let that sink in: Six whole months in the same tiny room with almost no one to talk to, nothing to do, and sometimes nothing nutritious to eat.

Screenshot from NYCLU/YouTube.

Typically, isolation is used as a disciplinary measure for prisoners who have committed infractions. But research has shown that forcing a prisoner to spend a lot of time alone in a room with no human contact and limited recreation doesn’t help to improve their behavior.

People who have served time in extreme isolation understandably have difficulty transitioning back to life outside a small cell. A report by the NYCLU also found that solitary causes "severe emotional and psychological consequences," which can lead to aggression and outbursts, both inside prison and when they’re released.

For the next five years, New York has committed to making prison isolation better.

Not perfect, but better. Here’s what’s that means, specifically:

1. Almost one-quarter of the inmates who are currently in solitary will be placed in different programs — ones that are safer, allow for human interaction, and are meant to rehabilitate the people involved. New York will operate under the premise that people who are developmentally disabled, addicted to drugs, or in need to behavioral therapy shouldn’t be denied the help they need.

2. The people who remain in solitary won’t be there indefinitely. For most disciplinary violations, there’s now a three-month cap on isolation.

3. And the actual experience of solitary confinement will be a little more humane, too. Some inmates will have more access to mental health services and therapy, and everyone will get to make occasional phone calls to family. Also, food can’t be used as punishment anymore.

People who are in prison are still people. And prisons are called "correctional institutions" for a reason: They’re supposed to help people rehabilitate.

That’s why New York’s decision to overhaul solitary confinement is so important.

Photo via iStock.

It’s also why this overhaul needs to be the first of many, many steps.

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I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

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