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Increase in inmate, CO attacks drives call for repeal of N.Y.'s HALT solitary legislation

One official said that the HALT Act has done nothing to improve the quality of life for the officers and inmates in corrections facilities

By Jay Mullen
The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

FORT ANN, N.Y. — Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, stood in front of elected officials, members of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association and their families holding signs that read “We Support Correction Officers.”

He said that he was pushing for the repeal of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, but as someone who had originally voted in favor of the legislation he was there to do something else.

“That was a mistake,” he said as union members and representatives began to clap behind him. “To the men and women behind me: I apologize.”

The HALT Act limits long-term solitary confinement to 15 days while allowing solitary confinement to be served in traditional cells. For more information on the law, visit the New York State Senate’s website.

Ashby spoke after Sen. Dan Stec, R- Queensbury, fellow Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R- Horicon, Michael Powers, NYSCOPBA president, and John Roberts, northern region vice president of NYSCOPBA, called for the repeal of the HALT Act at a press conference on Wednesday morning.

Powers said that the HALT Act has done nothing to improve the quality of life for the officers and inmates in corrections facilities.

Since April 1, when the HALT Act when into effect, there has been a 37% increase in attacks on staff, according to numbers from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Inmate-on-inmate attacks have gone up 30% in that same time span, according to Powers.

“Our prisons are more dangerous than they’ve ever been,” he said.

Stec and Simpson co-authored the bill to repeal the act in the Senate and the Assembly.

Simpson said that the HALT Act was one of the first bills that he came across as an assemblyman.

“It was rushed through. It was presented in a way that was not factual. It was a lie on the floor in reference to an incident on Rikers Island,” he said.

Simpson said it was a political response that was not done to make the facilities safer or to protect the inmates or employees.

He said that a sponsor of the bill admitted in late May that he was wrong about the bill and that he was in favor of meeting to make things right.

Simpson said that he hasn’t heard anything about it since.

“Silence from the governor, silence from the Democratic majority that passed this disastrous bill that has resulted in, you heard the numbers, a 37% increase in violence,” he said. “This isn’t right.”

Stec thanked all of the officers in attendance for their service day in and day out, and highlighted that the facilities where they work are open 24/7, and somebody is always there.

He said that since the Democratic Party won control of all branches of state government following the 2018 election, “there’s been a pattern where we’ve been making more things legal. We’re decriminalizing behaviors. This HALT Act is part of a much larger theme.”

The theme, Stec said, is that the Democratic Party thinks that “they know best.” He said Democrats have ignored input from the people representing the facilities impacted by their decisions.

Stec noted that he has visited every correctional facility in his Senate district at least once. When debating the HALT Act prior to its passing, Stec said he asked those on the other side of the aisle if they had done the same.

“They’re voting on things they haven’t experienced. They haven’t been inside,” he said.

Stec said that Gov. Kathy Hochul picks and chooses when to ask for more data before making decisions on pressing issues. That data, he said, didn’t stop Hochul from signing a law limiting the concealed carry of firearms following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the state’s concealed-carry law.

Stec said that there is data readily available — which has been collected by Hochul’s administration — detailing the negative impact HALT is having.

“I’m not making this data up. This isn’t partisan data. This is their own data, and I can only wonder what the data point is that Hochal and the Democrats are waiting for,” he said.

The backdrop was the Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a state maximum-security prison that is located near Washington Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison, both in the Fort Ann hamlet of Comstock. Washington Correctional had an incident Tuesday in which an inmate injured multiple officers.

Roberts said that violence in prisons has substantially gone up since the HALT Act’s passage in April, and that Great Meadow has had several such incidents.

He said that on Father’s Day an inmate tried to skip the line so he could use the phone in the prison yard. Roberts said that the inmate disobeyed orders from officers and became violent.

A group of inmates attacked more officers, leading to 15 being injured in total and five being treated at Glens Falls Hospital.

Roberts said a makeshift weapon was found that could have caused serious harm.

He mentioned another incident from May 30 where officers tried to stop an inmate from cutting himself. When they got into the cell to save the inmate, he turned and cut multiple officers.

Nine officers were injured after the incident, with one being transported to Glens Falls Hospital.

“My heart goes out to the officers and the families of these individuals getting hurt on a daily basis in the prison system,” Roberts said.

Powers said that NYSCOPBA will be vocal during the repeal efforts by Simpson, Stec and Ashby.

“The HALT (Act) stinks from top to bottom, and there was no consideration from the shareholders going forward,” he said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has said that the HALT Act is aimed at ending the most harmful uses of isolation and solitary confinement currently in practice in the state.