In 1978, the Board adopted a set of sixteen Minimum Standards to provide what it considered to be the basic elements necessary to ensure the safe and humane housing of inmates. The original Standards include provisions ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of inmates and inmate access to courts, religious services, telephones, visitors, and recreation. The original Standards remained substantially unchanged until 1985.
In 1983, when overcrowding prevented the City from complying with Federal District Court orders, the Department released more than 600 pre-trial detainees. One immediate consequence of this "legal jailbreak" was the City's decision to begin an ambitious emergency capital construction project whereby DOC would add almost 2,900 beds to capacity. To assist the Department and prevent further releases during construction, the Board agreed to amend the overcrowding section of the Standards that had required DOC to provide at least 75 square feet of living space per inmate in dormitories.
The amendment, effective July 1985, reduced the per-inmate square-footage requirement by 20 percent, from 75 to 60 square feet, thereby providing the Department with immediate, temporary relief from the pressures of overcrowding and the threat of another release of inmates. In exchange, DOC agreed to abide by maximum capacity limits for dormitories (50 detainees or 60 sentenced prisoners) opened after the effective date of the amendment. The Board also incorporated into the amended Standard the requirements of the NYC Building Code for ratios of operable toilets, showers and sinks in dormitories. The Board and the Department agreed that dormitory capacity limits and fixture ratios would help to ameliorate the effects of increasing the number of inmates housed in each dormitory.
In June 2005, the Board began a comprehensive review of the Minimum Standards for NYC Correctional Facilities. In November 2007, the Board adopted amendments to its rules. The amendments went into effect in June 2008.
In 2014 and 2015, the Board engaged in additional rounds of rulemaking that resulted in significant amendments to the Board's Minimum Standards. The Board created new standards regulating punitive segregation and Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH). These punitive segregation reforms made NYC a national leader in reducing reliance on punitive segregation and stemming its negative effects.