Bill Ending Solitary Confinement in New York Has Enough Support to Pass State Senate
By Denis Slattery NY Daily News March 22, 2019
A majority of Democratic state Senators are on board with bringing solitary confinement to end in the Empire State.
Advocates applauded lawmakers Friday for rallying behind a bill that would bar jails from punishing prisoners by locking them away on their own for extended periods of time.
The bill, which recently secured its 32nd co-sponsor, essentially ensuring its passage, would limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement and “creates alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options.”
“Too many of our fellow human beings are being subjected to long-term solitary confinement and treated inhumanely," said Victor Pate, a statewide organizer for the HALT Solitary campaign, during a rally Friday outside Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office.
Pate, who knows personally the ill-effects of being placed in solitary, and other activists want the governor to join his fellow Dems and ensure the measure makes it into law.
"I was in solitary for two years, with the longest stretch being 90 days straight for having too many sheets," he said. "It was torture. And other people have been in solitary for years and decades straight. It does nothing to make a person better.”
Advocates are calling on Cuomo to drop his own proposal to scale back the use of solitary, which is part of his budget, in favor of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term, or HALT, Solitary Confinement Act introduced in the Senate by Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx).
Last year, Cuomo introduced a number of reforms that said anyone locked up in solitary in local state jails must be given at least four hours a day outside the cell. Jails also have to report to the state any decision where a prisoner is given solitary confinement for more than a month and also when someone under the age of 18 is placed in solitary.
Jason Conwall, a spokesman for the governor said those changes would apply to all facilities across the state under Cuomo’s budget plan.
“We have now advanced legislation to apply those policies to all jails throughout the state,” Conwall said. “We appreciate other proposals and will review them through the course of budget negotiations.”
The HALT bill would bar anyone from being held in solitary for more than 15 days or more than 20 days within any two month period.
A similar bill passed the Assembly last year, but failed to gain enough support in the then-Republican-led Senate.
“New York is on the verge of making the most sweeping reforms to the torture of solitary confinement in the country, with a clear majority of support for passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act," the HALT campaign said in a statement Friday, noting that approximately 7% of the state prison population is in solitary confinement on any given day.
“Governor Cuomo has introduced a counter-proposal and we firmly believe it is a distraction. Under his proposal, people could continue to be held in solitary confinement indefinitely — for months, years, and even decades,” the group added.