NYAPRS Note: The NYS campaign to win passage of the landmark HALT bill intensified over the weekend, with high profile media coverage and Senate release of the video of last week’s Capital news conference featuring legislative leaders and criminal justice and mental health advocates.
Look for more Albany demonstrations, statewide actions and media coverage this week, as we enter into the final weeks of NYS legislative session.
Watch closely here for what you can next to replace torture with treatment in NYS prisons and jails!
See the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=eBCzRQz8SMs.
More Than 100 Lawmakers Sign on to Bill Limiting Solitary Confinement
By Erika Leigh Spectrum News June 2, 2019
More than 100 lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor a bill opposing solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the state.
HALT— or the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Confinement Act— aims to create units to rehabilitate inmates, allowing for six hours of programming and one hour of recreation daily.
"The adverse effects of solitary confinement, on mental health, have been well-documented," said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern).
That's why advocates are hoping the HALT Act will change the way some inmates are treated in New York State.
"This legislation forces us to look at another way forward to make sure that corrections officers still have a disciplinary method," said Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown). "Just not using always solitary confinement and using it to the extreme measures that we've seen have had disastrous results."
Right now, inmates are confined to solitary housing units for 23 hours a day.
"If the goal is to get them out into the community to be productive members of society after they've served the terms of their incarceration, don't we want them to not have to deal with ramifications of something that might have a traumatic impact for years and years?" said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State.
Mental health advocates are standing behind the bill citing high suicide rates among those in solitary, as well as research which shows worsening of mental health issues.
"People oftentimes go in there that do not have a mental health issue," said Victor Pate, statewide organizer for Campaign For Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. "But oftentimes, because of the extreme deprivation and isolation and lack of human contact, oftentimes come out with mental health issues."
The new bill allows for segregation of certain inmates but only for 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a 2-month period. It eliminates solitary confinement for anyone under age 21, over 55, anyone who has a mental health issue, a woman who is pregnant or caring for a child while in jail.
Advocates say New York is a leader is social justice and should follow suit of other states who've made change.
"We've seen examples in other states, in Maine and Colorado, they've essentially completely eliminated solitary confinement and the results have been tremendously positive for people," Liebman said.
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association is against the bill. A spokesperson said in a statement:
"Misconceptions surrounding special housing units have clouded the community’s perception. Let’s be clear. Solitary confinement does not exist in New York. The dramatized version of solitary confinement that Hollywood has portrayed bears no similarity to actual practices put in place for special housing units. This only distracts from the real issue. Designed with safety for all in mind, special housing units separate dangerous individuals from the general population, and only when they commit serious infractions. They also provide safety to incarcerated individuals who would be subject to dangerous situations among the general population. The NYCLU settlement reached as a result of Peoples v. Annucci significantly reformed how special housing units are used, and has not yet fully been implemented. We need a full accounting of how exactly that has impacted our correctional facilities before any additional restrictions are implemented."
The Senate Bill is currently scheduled for the floor. The Assembly Bill version is still in committee.
NYS Capitol Watch: Suicide Prevention, Solitary Confinement On Agenda
By David Klepper Associated Press June 1, 2019
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, lawmakers are entering the final three weeks of their legislative session with a hearing on suicide prevention.
Tuesday's hearing in Albany was called following research that found higher rates of suicide among certain groups, such as black children.
Meanwhile, supporters of legislation that would limit the use of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails to no more than 15 days are hoping for last-minute progress on the measure.
A Look at What’s Coming Up This Week
Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland County, said he hopes the hearing helps lawmakers craft new state policies for suicide prevention and community mental health.
While it's unlikely the hearing will result in legislation before lawmakers adjourn next month, he said he wants to examine the problem now so proposals can be vetted in time for next year's state budget.
Carlucci chairs the Senate Committee on Mental Health, one of the two committees hosting Tuesday's event. He said he has been disturbed by several recent studies examining suicide rates in specific groups, such as one that found that the rate of suicide in black children 13 and younger is roughly double that of their white peers.
"Adolescent suicide is the last thing you want to talk about or think about," Carlucci said. "It's hard to have these conversations. But we have to address it."
More than half the members of both the Senate and Assembly have signed on to the legislation, which would prohibit any inmate in a prison or jail from being placed in isolation for longer than 15 days at a stretch.
Yet despite that level of support, the bill hasn't been scheduled for a vote, and supporters worry it could be left behind when lawmakers adjourn June 19.
"We have the votes to move this to the governor's desk," said Harvey Rosenthal, CEO of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, one of the leading supporters of the bill. "These people deserve treatment, not torture."
The bill would also impose new regulations for solitary and require prisons to provide specialized treatment and services for inmates they say cannot be held in the general population.
Estimates are that as many as 4,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement in New York state at any given time. Supporters of the legislation say it can lead to lifelong psychological problems.
While the bill has several high-profile supporters, including the Mental Health Association of New York State and the state's Catholic Conference, it faces stiff opposition from the union representing correctional workers.
Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said the proposal reflects Hollywood myths about solitary.
"Solitary confinement does not exist in New York," he said in a statement. "Designed with safety for all in mind, special housing units separate dangerous individuals from the general population, and only when they commit serious infractions."