Legislation would limit solitary confinement time

Legislation being discussed in the state Legislature would limit the amount of time a state prison inmate could spend in solitary confinement.

The Humane Alternatives To Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, A.2500/S.1623, would end solitary confinement of those under the age of 21 and over the age of 55, would restrict the reasons solitary confinement can be used and would improve the conditions of solitary confinement. Among the changes are prohibiting the use of special diets as punishment; limiting solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days or 20 out of 60 days unless specific acts are committed while an inmate is in solitary confinement; and creation of Justice Center oversight of solitary confinement and residential rehabilitation units.

“Studies have consistently found that subjecting people to segregated confinement for 22 to 24 hours a day without meaningful human contact, programming, or therapy can cause deep and permanent psychological, physical, developmental, and social harm,” wrote Jeff Aubrey, D-Brooklyn and sponsor of the legislation in the legislative memo. “People often have more difficulty complying with prison rules after being placed in segregated confinement. Segregated confinement can be particularly devastating for certain vulnerable people, such as young or elderly people, pregnant women, and people with disabilities or trauma histories. Other states have dramatically reduced the number of people in segregated confinement, and seen positive benefits in terms of safety and decreased violence.”

Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, has voted against the proposal when it was debated by the Assembly’s Correction and Codes committees, though the legislation passed both committees. Earlier this year, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association Inc. asked its members to oppose the legislation.

“While some of the treatment and rehabilitative provisions of the bill may be worthy of consideration, the failure of this bill to adequately consider the safety and well-being of all those working inside and living within our prison system cannot be ignored,” the organization said on its website in February. “If enacted, HALT will further restrict security staff’s ability to utilize effective disciplinary measures, when necessary. Further restrictions will jeopardize the safety of staff and inmates and care custody and control of the correctional facilities could be compromised.”

The union also raised concerns about the legislation given that reforms stemming from a settled lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union haven’t been implemented yet, something the union feels makes the HALT act outdated. Lastly, union officials say prison violence is continuing to increase. They prefer taking time to study the issue before passing any further legislation.

“We need to understand why violence continues to rise in our prisons,” the union stated. “Since NYCLU was implemented the department’s stats on violence have skyrocketed. Before we consider further reforms to SHU, we are calling on the formation of a bi-partisan commission to initiate a study to determine the reasons why violence continues to plague our system. Only until we understand the reasons that violence is so prevalent, will be best suited to develop sound policy to improve.”