New York

New York, prodded by lawsuit, becomes latest state to reform solitary confinement in prison

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during an economic development awards ceremony in Albany, N.Y. After the NYCLU filed its lawsuit in 2011, Cuomo saw it as an opportunity to improve New York's prison standards and instructed his staff to negotiate. New York prison officials agreed Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, to overhaul their use of solitary confinement, offering a broad slate of reforms aimed at reducing the number of inmates sent to "the box," limiting the amount of time they can spend there and providing counseling to help long-term solitary inmates adjust to life on the outside. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during an economic development awards ceremony in Albany, N.Y. After the NYCLU filed its lawsuit in 2011, Cuomo saw it as an opportunity to improve New York's prison standards and instructed his staff to negotiate. New York prison officials agreed Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, to overhaul their use of solitary confinement, offering a broad slate of reforms aimed at reducing the number of inmates sent to "the box," limiting the amount of time they can spend there and providing counseling to help long-term solitary inmates adjust to life on the outside. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)  (The Associated Press)

In announcing a comprehensive overhaul of solitary confinement, New York has become the latest among a handful of states to reform the prison practice.

But as in other states, officials were first prompted to act, at least in part, by a lawsuit.

In September, corrections officials in California announced they would stop unlimited isolation of gang leaders as part of a class action lawsuit settlement.

Reforms to solitary in Mississippi, Arizona and Ohio also were prompted in part by lawsuits.

Experts say that while litigation has been an effective tool to reform prisons and reduce the use of solitary, by itself it's not enough.

They say progressive corrections commissioners who see the value in reform make effecting change much easier.

Maine, Michigan and Colorado have initiated reforms on their own.