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Candidate slams HALT, gets backing of NYC COs in tight race for governor

“If I punch any one of you in your face and break your orbital, you’re not coming to work the next day. That’s our reality every single day,” a CO official said


New York Republican gubernatorial nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during a press conference at the entrance to the Rikers Island jail on October 24, 2022.

Photo/Michael M. Santiago of NY Daily News via MCT

By Michael Gartland and Denis Slattery
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Rikers Island served as a backdrop to a campaign stop Monday as Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin touted the endorsement of the city’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association.

The Long Island congressman, who has gained on Democratic Gov. Hochul in recent polls, vowed to have the backs of union members who secure the city’s problem-plagued jail and slammed a Dem-backed law limiting the use of solitary confinement in New York.

“Every elected official at every level should be doing everything in their power to make sure that these corrections officers have every tool with the law or financial support or whatever else is needed to be able to do their jobs,” Zeldin said during a press conference held under a tent outside of the beleaguered institution’s entrance in Queens.

Zeldin blamed the Humane Alternatives to Long Term Solitary Confinement, or HALT Act, for an uptick in assaults against correction officers in jails and prisons across the state — and he reiterated his demand for its full repeal and vowed to suspend the law if elected.

The HALT Act, signed into law last year by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, took effect in April. It caps the amount of time a person can be held in segregated confinement housing to 15 days, or 20 days over a two-month period.

A federal lawsuit filed by the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association challenging the law was dismissed over the summer.

State data show assaults on correction officers has been on the rise for nearly a decade, and unions and Republican lawmakers say HALT has emboldened those behind bars.

“The reality is the HALT Act, trying to end punitive segregation, there are no viable consequences for inmate actions anymore,” said New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association president Benny Boscio, who joined Zeldin at the appearance. “And that has led to an onslaught of officers being assaulted through the roof.

“And that’s the reason why my members are out sick on the mend recovering from these injuries,” he added, shouting: “You’ve emboldened the inmates because there are no consequences for crime in our city and there are no consequences on Rikers Island as well.”

Boscio grew agitated as he slammed the law and defended his members, who he said are under attack every day.

“If I punch any one of you in your face and break your orbital, you’re not coming to work the next day,” he shouted. “That’s our reality every single day.”

[PREVIOUS: Official blames N.Y. solitary reform law for increased attacks on COs]

The endorsement came two days after another death was recorded at the dysfunctional detention center. Erick Tavira, 28, became the 17th person to die this year in city custody or shortly after being released amid the looming possibility of a federal takeover of the notoriously troubled jail.

Zeldin has the backing of a large number of law enforcement unions and has gained ground on Hochul in recent polls as he continues to focus on crime and public safety in the lead up to Election Day.

The lawmaker has vowed to declare a state of emergency on crime in order to suspend criminal justice reforms, including HALT and New York’s cashless bail system, if he wins on Nov. 8.

He also slammed Hochul and accused her of not doing enough to combat crime and support police two days after the governor rolled out a joint plan with Mayor Adams to flood city subways with more officers.

“What Kathy Hochul should be saying is that what we need to do is increase the ranks of the NYPD,” Zeldin said. “We need to have more people in uniform, and we need more plain clothes people on the streets and subways as well. But instead she wants to half-ass it.”

Criminal justice advocates, who have argued in recent months that HALT is not being properly implemented at state jails and prisons, panned Zeldin’s plan to roll back reforms.

“After having experienced the trauma, torture and inhumanity of solitary confinement, it is urgent and necessary for the HALT Solitary Law to be fully and effectively implemented,” Jerome Wright, co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, said in a statement. “We have lost too many lives to solitary confinement and too many other people have been made into the walking as shells of their former selves because of this torture.”

NEXT: N.Y. COs continue to call for repeal of solitary confinement legislation

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