New NYS Solitary Confinement Proposal Raises Serious Questions: NYAPRS

NYAPRS Note: Despite the resolute, tireless efforts of the Campaign for Alternatives to Solitary Confinement and majorities in both houses for passage of sweeping HALT legislation, last week ended with an administrative plan that raises numerous serious questions.  

Among the most important goals of NYAPRS’ steadfast support for the HALT bill and the Campaign were its limiting solitary confinement to 15-day stays (the UN regards at longer stays as ‘torture', creation of humane rehabilitation centered cells rather than punishment based elevator sized quarters and its ban on solitary confinement for people with mental and other disabilities.

Following are questions raised from the actual text (italicized below) of the Governor’s plan:

  • The strict prohibition of placement of vulnerable incarcerated individuals such as adolescents, pregnant women, and the disabled within a special housing unit for solitary confinement What standards will be used to define mental disability?

  • Provisions to ensure that only incarcerated individuals who commit serious misconduct can be sent to special housing units for solitary confinement. How will ‘serious misconduct’ be defined?

  • Ensuring that the duration of time incarcerated individuals will be permitted to be housed within a special housing unit for solitary confinement will ultimately be capped at 30 days. Why will it take New York almost 3 years to get to a cap that nonetheless extends beyond accepted definitions of torture?

  • Expanding the use of specialized units by DOCCS where individuals released from solitary confinement will be housed before being returned to the general population area of the facility. While housed in these specialized units, incarcerated individuals will receive programming and treatment tailored to promote personal development and rehabilitation and staff assigned to these units will be required to undergo additional training.

The Governor referred to the cost of these essential units ($350 million for the state, $1 billion for the counties) as his primary objection to the HALT bill. How quickly and how will the state finance and build these humane rehabilitative alternatives? 


  • Making clear that solitary confinement will be a reserved punishment for serious conduct that creates significant risk to the safety and security of correctional facilities and the individuals within. ‘Reserved’ punishments has a ‘last resort’ connotation. How will policies, regulations and training ensure that solitary becomes a ‘reserved’ last resort measure?--------------------

  • In the Daily News article that follows, Mary Lynne Werlwas, the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society declared that “handshake deals and promises of moderation are no substitute for clear laws protecting New Yorkers against this inhumane treatment.”

What mechanisms and bodies will be created to assure the highest level of oversight and accountability, especially given that the agreement is not in binding statute?


  • How much confidence can we have that the the state union for the corrections officers (NYSCOPBA) will fully support these measures when it has repeatedly declared that “there is no solitary confinement in New York State”?

Very Positive Provisions

  • Ensuring that incarcerated individuals housed within one of the specialized units will be able to earn an early release back to the general population area of the facility by completing the programming assigned to them before the expiration of the imposed sanction. There will also be a presumption that any loss of good time will be restored to individuals who successfully complete their rehabilitation program.

  • Ensuring that incarcerated individuals will not be denied essential services as a form of discipline and DOCCS will not impose restricted diets or any other changes in diet as punishment.

  • Increasing training of all staff that work within special housing units on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, trauma-informed care, and dispute resolution.


Cuomo, Legislative Leaders Agree to Deal on Solitary Confinement Cap, Reform Advocates Blast Bargain As 'Cowardice’

By DENIS SLATTERY  New York Daily News  June 21, 2019

Gov. Cuomo and state legislative leaders have a deal to restrict solitary confinement in state prisons — but failed to pass more sweeping legislation that would’ve banned keeping inmates in isolation for longer than 15 straight days.

Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agreed instead to “dramatically reduce” the use of solitary by sidestepping legislation and making changes administratively.

“The solution is often not as easy as the political rhetoric," Cuomo said Friday. “The devil is in the details.”

But advocates branded the agreement as an “appalling act of cowardice.”

The deal would ban the use of solitary on certain “vulnerable” prisoners — including pregnant women, adolescents and disabled inmates. It would expand prison units meant to help prisoners in solitary transition back into prisons’ general populations.

As part of the deal, corrections staffers who work in special housing units would get new training on de-escalation techniques and dispute resolution.

They’d also be trained in trauma-informed care, a kind of counseling that recognizes prisoners might have a history of trauma, and on implicit biases or stereotypes.

The leaders also vowed to cap at 30 days the amount of time prisoners can spend in solitary — double what reformers fought for.

State prisons now hold about 47,000 inmates.

Cuomo in recent weeks drew the ire of anti-solitary advocates by raising concerns over how much money an anti-solitary confinement law could cost.

“Unintended consequences and actual governmental initiation and fulfillment is much different than a political statement,” Cuomo said.

But advocates with the #Haltsolitary Campaign accused Cuomo and lawmakers of turning their backs "on a movement led by survivors of solitary, family members and other advocates, as well as the people currently suffering the psychological terror of solitary confinement.”

"As a result of this appalling act of cowardice people will continue to be tortured and will die. We are devastated," the group said.

“The failure of Albany leadership to enact the HALT Solitary Confinement legislation is a disgrace. New York loses its moral authority to protest human rights abuses elsewhere when it permits torture by isolation in prisons and jails in our state," said Mary Lynne Werlwas, the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. "Handshake deals and promises of moderation are no substitute for clear laws protecting New Yorkers against this inhumane treatment.”

A union representing prison staffers opposed the anti-solitary confinement bill. Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, had blasted the ideas as “a direct attack on labor and the law enforcement community.”

Through a spokesman, the association Friday declined to comment on the new agreement.

Denis Slattery is a reporter covering national politics and breaking news. He began working at the Daily News in January 2012.