Advocates Reject Gov Cuomo's Resistance, Cost Estimates for Solitary Confinement Reform; Legislators Mull Passing their Bill

NYAPRS Note: As the NYS legislative session prepares to wrap up at the end of today or tomorrow morning, passage of the HALT solitary confinement reform bill looms very large. The issues is listed as among the top 3 or 4 priorities by most media as the Hunger Strike goes into its 7th day and advocates took over the Governor’s ‘War Room’ yesterday detailing the horrific trauma so any endured there and camped out between both houses’ chambers into the night.  

Governor Cuomo tried to thread the needle yesterday by backing reform but saying the money wasn’t there but the advocates were undeterred. Our campaign released a statement early this morning saying “President Trump famously said he had the largest-ever crowd size for his inauguration, despite widely accepted estimates showing a laughably small turnout. This is no different, except that the consequences of anyone taking Gov. Cuomo’s comments on the HALT Solitary Confinement Act seriously would be far, far worse. The governor has a clear agenda and he is playing with numbers.”

It’s possible that the Governor’s intransigence will be met by a 2 house bill that gets placed on his desk later today or tomorrow. Several days ago, the Rent reform bill was about the be handed to him this way until he stepped in and helped craft and sign the measure.

 

Our group held a vigil well into early into the morning and we will be here again all day for a session that is expected to start at noon.

 

The HALT bill has majorities in both houses….we are urging them to go forward today and pass the bill!

 

The Top End-Of-Session Issues For State Lawmakers

Deals On Marijuana Legalizations And Other Top Issues Remain Elusive.

By ZACH WILLIAMS   City and State NY June 18, 2019

 

State lawmakers are passing a landmark bill addressing climate change, but several high-profile issues remain unresolved heading into the final scheduled day of this year’s legislative session.

It was unclear by late Tuesday evening whether lawmakers had passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, as lawmakers stayed late to pass as many bills as they could in the final days of the legislative session. Lawmakers are expected to continue that effort on Wednesday by passing a range of progressive legislation, including changes to state laws on sexual harassment, an expansion of farmworkers’ rights, and a renewal of the state program that helps minority- and women-owned enterprises get public contracts. Some of these proposals could pass as stand-alone pieces of legislation, but others could get pushed into an omnibus bill that lawmakers would aim to pass sometime Wednesday or early Thursday.

…..

Criminal justice reform

The state budget included new limits on cash bail and other criminal justice reforms, but lawmakers are still looking to pass several additional proposals. This includes legislation that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, a proposal to give automatic parole to elderly inmates and an effort to make disciplinary records of NYPD officers more transparent. Activists have been pushing lawmakers to pass the reforms, but they remain up in the air on the final day of the session. Cuomo told WNCY on Tuesday morning that a deal could happen, but he remains concerned about what the cost would be of shifting inmates away from solitary confinement. "I'm not in favor of building a billion dollars in new jails,” he said. Activists have urged that cost savings be achieved through the opposite approach of closing down prisons – an issue that may be difficult for a governor who has already been criticized this year for the economic effects of closing upstate correctional facilities. Activists also pushed back at Cuomo’s comments on Tuesday that suggested the proposal would require new prisons and that the legislation would hurt the state’s bottom line. “President Trump famously said he had the largest-ever crowd size for his inauguration, despite widely accepted estimates showing a laughably small turnout,” read a statement from the HALT Solitary campaign. “This is no different, except that the consequences of anyone taking Gov. Cuomo’s comments on the HALT Solitary Confinement Act seriously would be far, far worse. The governor has a clear agenda and he is playing with numbers.”

https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state/ten-issues-still-facing-new-york-state-lawmakers.html

 

City & State Activists also pushed back at Cuomo’s comments on Tuesday that suggested the proposal would require new prisons and that the legislation would hurt the state’s bottom line. “President Trump famously said he had the largest-ever crowd size for his inauguration, despite widely accepted estimates showing a laughably small turnout,” read a statement from the HALT Solitary campaign. “This is no different, except that the consequences of anyone taking Gov. Cuomo’s comments on the HALT Solitary Confinement Act seriously would be far, far worse. The governor has a clear agenda and he is playing with numbers.”

 

Daily News A Democratic insider said there is still a chance that the two chambers could pass the bill without Cuomo’s help before the end of the legislative session on Wednesday.

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Cuomo Takes Heat From Criminal Justice Advocates Over Comments About Solitary Confinement Reforms

By DENIS SLATTERY   New York Daily News  June 18, 2019

 

ALBANY — Solitary confinement is “inhumane,” but kindness is costly, says Gov. Cuomo.

Cuomo drew the ire of criminal justice advocates, some of whom are on a hunger strike, when he claimed Tuesday to support a bill that would end long-term solitary confinement, but raised concerns about how much the move could wind up costing the state.

“I am in favor of better, safer, more humane procedures,” Cuomo told WCNY’s Susan Arbetter. “What the current proposal does, however, it mandates that the state and local jails build a new type of jail."

Cuomo estimated that building new facilities and units would cost the state about $350 million and another $1 billion statewide for local jails.

Proponents of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) bill say the governor is mischaracterizing the measure.

“The alternative units that the governor is referencing in his statement would be limited to a small population of people who could be housed in existing facilities, but with a greater amount of time out-of-cell, meaningful programs, and interaction with other people,” a spokesman for the #HALTsolitary Confinement Campaign said in a statement.

The HALT act would ban prisons from holding inmates away from others for more than 15 consecutive or 20 days total in a 60-day time frame. It would also ban the practice for those younger than 21 years old and older than 55, and for people with physical and mental disabilities.

More than 2,400 people were in solitary confinement as of June 1, according to statistics released by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Correction officers from around the state have spoken out against the measure, arguing that it would needlessly put them in danger.

“We firmly believe that any legislative effort to further restrict how long violent inmates can spend in punitive segregation, even after viciously assaulting our members, or other inmates, sends a dangerous message to these inmates-there are zero consequences for committing crimes behind bars,” said city Correction Officers Benevolent Association president Elias Husamudeen, whose organization submitted a memo of opposition against the bill.

Dozens of advocates, including some who survived solitary, have been on a hunger strike since last Thursday, consuming nothing but liquids as they demand the state overhaul isolated confinement. Several of the demonstrators planned to hold a vigil in the Capitol Building late Tuesday, risking arrest to raise awareness for their cause.

Activist Roger Clark, a community leader with VOCAL-NY who spent time in solitary, said Cuomo has it all wrong.

“He has more than enough facilities to do the rehabilitative residential units right now,” Clark said. “I know the traumatic impact of solitary and I’m still suffering the effects and I’m adamant he should end solitary confinement right now.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) indicated that talks are ongoing between his chamber, the Senate and the governor’s office.

“We’re in three-way discussions on solitary confinement and I hope we can get to a place where all parties are happy,” Heastie said.

A Democratic insider said there is still a chance that the two chambers could pass the bill without Cuomo’s help before the end of the legislative session on Wednesday.

https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-solitary-confinement-reforms-cuomo-advocates-20190618-nmowdgfsjjcwfkl4lqvpyc7osi-story.html

 

We must end solitary confinement in New York | Opinion

Kim Francis, Special to the USA TODAY NETWORK  June 18, 2019

New York legislators must end solitary confinement in prisons and jails across the state. They must do it for all New Yorkers as the torture of solitary confinement runs contrary to our values as New Yorkers. They must do this for the people on the inside who are currently in solitary, and for people like me, on the outside, still suffering from the experiences I endured while I was in prison. 

Starting in the early 1980s, I spent about 24 years in and out of New York state prisons and ended up in solitary confinement a couple of times. The first time, in Clinton Correctional Facility, was the most memorable: I was in for 30 days and it was a truly horrific experience. 

A guard refused to let me out of my cell to go to a program. One thing led to another and we started yelling at each other, with me cursing him out. They swept me up on a “verbal abuse” infraction and sent me straight to “the box.”

When you are in solitary confinement, it’s disorienting. You are sort of able to see people through a tiny square in the door of your cell, but you don’t really know what’s going on. One day I started to hear yelling from a nearby cell: A man was calling for help, saying he was having health complications, and the officers kept telling him to be quiet. Finally, three or four officers came in and beat him. I heard a lot more yelling, and then it was just quiet. They left. The next morning they carried him out — he had died in his cell.

I had to learn very quickly to become numb. My whole world was cut off. I cut off all social activity and all emotion — it was like putting on a mask, never showing any vulnerability. You have to become a different person than you used to be. 

When I got out of solitary, I was even angrier than when I went in, because of the injustice of it. People were locked away for all kinds of reasons — some for serious issues, but for the most part just smaller infractions like mine. And it didn’t help anything. In fact, it made things worse. 

What if the guards had just asked me why I spoke out and sought to address the underlying issue instead of subjecting me to torture, which only made me want to act out more? New York’s prisons are not designed to solve problems, only to control and punish. The HALT bill would help to change that. 

Since leaving prison for good in 2002, it’s taken me a long time to filter back into society. I spent years bouncing between living in the streets, shelters, hospitals and other institutions. My time inside, including in solitary, did a lot to me, psychologically. It has an effect on everyone, some more severe than others. Now I’m blessed to live just one day at a time, trying to feel like a human again after feeling like an animal for so many years. I still have flashbacks, still use the language I learned on the inside, and I have a really hard time relating to other people. But I am surviving — I'm now living the best life possible in my own place here in Yonkers. 

I was excited to learn that New York State is on the cusp of banning the practice of solitary confinement so that other people do not have to relive my experiences. All we need is a vote. So today I urge state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins to support our community and pass this legislation. It could save somebody’s life.

Kim Francis lives in Yonkers and is a community leader for Voices Of Community Activists and Leaders, a grassroots advocacy organization.

https://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/2019/06/18/we-must-end-solitary-confinement-new-york-opinion/1479305001/