Early this morning, the HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act ) was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. An incredible tireless campaign run by the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement drove the success of the law passage along with dedicated support from the Legislature. There will now be restrictions from holding people in solitary confinement for more than fifteen straight days as well as elimination of solitary confinement for certain prison populations including people with serious mental health issues.
MHANYS, NAMI and NYAPRS have long fought with our colleagues from the Campaign recognizing the traumatic impact to the ‘SHU’ for people with pre-existing mental health conditions. For someone with a serious mental health condition in the correctional system, there are likely some very serious trauma issues involved. The notion of someone with already existing trauma issues facing solitary confinement will have long term impact well after their release from prison.
Prime example. Through our life experiences, my family has befriended two people that have become family to us—both have been incarcerated. One is still unfortunately incarcerated. The friend who is out has both mental health and addictions issues that stem from a childhood of trauma. Despite her mental health issues, she was frequently in the SHU while incarcerated. Though she is out now in the community, she is convinced that her time in the SHU has re-traumatized her and is making it impossible for her to recover successfully.
The notion of recovery for people with mental health issues in correctional settings is not ethereal—it is real life. We all are aware that people with mental health issues are disproportionately in prisons and are disproportionately individuals of color. We need resources to help provide recovery services while in prison including approval of the Medicaid waiver that has languished at the Federal Level that would allow for the planning of treatment and services thirty days before individuals are released from prisons so they have access to immediate services upon release.
There also has to be recognition of the COs and other staff that work in the correctional system. These are difficult jobs and the pressure is enormous. We must have funding in place to work with them around mental health issues as well as providing self-care strategies, recognizing the strain that they (and by extension their families) are under in these difficult environments.
Much more needs to be done, but the signing of the HALT legislation is a major step forward. Listed below is the Governor’s press release about signing the HALT legislation into law.
GOVERNOR CUOMO SIGNS THE HALT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ACT INTO LAW
Legislation (S2836/A2277A) Restricts Time in Segregated Confinement and Exempts Vulnerable Populations
Establishes Specialized Units for Therapeutic Programming and Expands Out of Cell Time for Incarcerated Individuals
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S2836/A2277A) into law, reforming the practice of segregated confinement in New York State correctional facilities. This legislation limits the amount of time an incarcerated person can spend in segregated confinement to 15 days, clearly defines and reduces the number of disciplinary infractions eligible for segregated confinement, and exempts certain vulnerable populations, including the young, elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and individuals with a serious mental illness.
This legislation also establishes Residential Rehabilitation Units to provide incarcerated individuals with therapeutic and trauma-informed programming in a congregate setting. The expanded program model enacted by the HALT legislation will better address an individual’s underlying criminogenic needs and provide greater rehabilitative impacts to change behavior, leading to positive outcomes for individuals transitioning back to the general population.
“Generations of incarcerated men and women have been subjected to inhumane punishment in segregated confinement with little to no human interaction for extended periods of time and many experience emotional and physical trauma that can last for years,” Governor Cuomo said. “By signing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act into law we are reforming New York’s criminal justice system by helping ensure the effective implementation of proven, humane corrections policies. I applaud the bill sponsors and look forward to continuing our work to reform the era of mass incarceration and usher in a safer, more just Empire State.”
Senator Julia Salazar said, “The HALT Solitary Confinement Act will put an end to the use of long-term solitary confinement in our state, a practice that has perpetuated violence and caused irreparable harm. I thank Governor Cuomo for taking action and signing this bill into law. This is a necessary step in making our state’s correctional facilities safer and our communities healthier.”
Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubrey said, “Solitary confinement has been established by the United Nations as a method of torture. The HALT act will not eliminate this practice, but will be regulated in a way which we think is conducive to the long-term betterment of both those who are incarcerated as well as the communities they return to. HALT will improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to confinement.”
HALT Solitary Confinement Act
Studies have shown that isolation with little or no human contact for extended periods of time often leads to lasting trauma, as well as unintended consequences that are detrimental to an individual’s rehabilitation. This legislation includes several reforms, including:
- A limitation on the amount of time people can spend in segregated confinement or special housing units to 15 days;
- The creation of Residential Rehabilitations Units that will afford incarcerated individuals out-of-cell programming and trauma informed care, to address the underlying actions that resulted in their discipline;
- The establishment of a minimum amount of out-of-cell time, therapeutic programming and/or recreation;
- A restriction on the placement of youth, pregnant women, elderly and individuals with a serious mental illness into segregated confinement; and
- An increase in the training of all staff that work within special housing units on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, trauma-informed care, and dispute resolution.
This legislation builds upon the previous agreement announced by the Governor in 2019 and enacted by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision via regulation as well as historic reductions in segregated confinement resulting from the NYCLU settlement. Additionally, the Governor advanced and secured funding in the FY 2020 Enacted Budget to make significant infrastructure changes to program space and fund counselors, teachers, and other program staff for the Residential Rehabilitation Units. These reforms resulted in:
- A reduction in the total number of individuals housed in a SHU cell (regardless of sanction status) by 50 percent
- A reduction in the number of individuals serving a SHU sanction in a SHU cell by 58 percent
- A reduction in the number of individuals under the age of 22 housed in a SHU cell by 72 percent
- A reduction in the median length of stay for individuals serving a SHU sanction in a SHU cell by 20 percent
Governor Cuomo has aggressively pushed smart and fair criminal justice policies to ensure New York State remains a national leader in progressive reform. These reforms to the criminal justice system have resulted in a drastic reduction in mass-incarceration, while simultaneously enhancing public safety. Governor Cuomo has closed 18 correctional facilities – more than any other administration in state history. These prison closures eliminated almost 10,000 beds resulting in an annual savings of about $300 million. Since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, the prison population has declined by more than 25,800 – a 45% reduction – from 57,229 to 31,419 people, as of March 31, 2021. In fact, the current DOCCS population is at its lowest level in more than 30 years, with New York leading the nation with the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state.