NY lawmakers approve bill that would bring solitary confinement to a halt

If signed, the measure will limit any form of isolation exceeding 15 days and ban solitary confinement for vulnerable populations altogether


By Denis Slattery
New York Daily News

ALBANY, N.Y. — Lawmakers approved long-sought legislation Thursday limiting the use of solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails.

The bill, called the Humane Alternatives to Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT, passed the state Senate days after sailing through the Assembly. If signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the measure will limit any form of isolation exceeding 15 days and ban solitary confinement for vulnerable populations altogether.

A protester holds a sign at a rally against solitary confinement outside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office in Manhattan.
A protester holds a sign at a rally against solitary confinement outside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office in Manhattan. (Photo/Erik McGregor via TNS)

“Prolonged segregated confinement can cause permanent harms and does not properly address the root causes that lead to the punishment,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said. “These reforms are morally right, fiscally responsible, and will improve outcomes at jails and prisons.”

There’s currently no limit on how long someone can spend in solitary, with some incarcerated people reporting months-long stints in isolation.

“It is no secret that the use of solitary confinement is inhumane, unethical and constitutes torture under international law if it extends more than fifteen days,” said Democratic state Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, the chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction. “It must be discontinued immediately.”

Advocates have fought for the measure for years, bristling in 2019 when the governor essentially squashed the bill and announced a policy change that fell short of the stricter limits set by the legislation. Supporters of the bill point to research showing solitary confinement can have devastating physical and mental impacts, leading to psychosis and health issues.

The Cuomo administration, and the governor himself, have argued that the changes outlined in the bill, such as implementing alternative rehabilitative measures and creating Residential Rehabilitation Units, would be too expensive to implement.

Jerome Wright, a statewide organizer with the #HALTsolitary Campaign and a survivor of solitary confinement, applauded the Legislature for finally taking up the bill.

“For many years, survivors of solitary confinement and families who have lost loved ones in solitary have led a campaign to end this torture and replace it with safer and more effective interventions,” he said in a statement. “Freedom from torture is the most basic of human rights, and yet every year tens of thousands of New Yorkers are subjected to it in the form of solitary confinement for weeks, months, years, and even decades.”

Under the bill, solitary confinement cannot be used as punishment for anyone with a disability or is under 21 or over 55 years of age.

It is also barred for women who are pregnant, up to eight weeks postpartum or caring for children in a facility. Anyone in solitary cannot be denied basic services, treatment or needs such as clothing, food and bedding as punishment, according to the legislation.

The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will also be required to publish monthly reports on its website with semiannual and annual cumulative reports of the total number of people in segregated confinement.

The NYC Correction Officers Union slammed legislators for passing the bill, arguing it will lead to an increase in violent attacks in prisons and noting that an officer was sent to Mount Sinai for stitches Wednesday after attempting to break up a fight between two inmates at a Rikers Island jail.

The officer was punched and slashed above the eye with a box cutter.

“There is nothing humane about subjecting our brave men and women to brutal assaults that send them to the hospital every week to be treated for broken noses, broken eye sockets, and gashes across their limbs that often require many stitches,” said COBA President Benny Boscio, arguing that attacks on officers are up 23% and stabbings and slashings continue to rise.

“The governor should put safety first and refuse to sign this reckless piece of legislation that is only going to further jeopardize the lives of our essential correction officers,” he added. Enough is enough.”

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