My all- time favorite quote comes from former football coach Blanton Collier who said, “You can accomplish anything you want as long as you don’t care who gets the credit for it.” There is no better quote that exemplifies the people who worked on the HALT campaign. Whether they were people who were formerly incarcerated, family members or social justice advocates, they worked together selflessly and masterfully. Whether it was a hunger strike, a protest, or behind the scenes meetings with legislators, they did everything humanly possible to make the HALT Bill happen.
Many of them knew first-hand about the horror of solitary confinement and they spent every waking minute trying to end that torture for others. Ultimately, they were upset at both the Legislature and the Executive that the changes they were seeking was not in the final ‘big ugly’ series of bills that was just passed. Instead this is being accomplished administratively with agreement between the Executive and the Legislature.
From our lens as mental health advocates, we really wanted to see the complete elimination of individuals with mental health issues from being in solitary for a myriad of reasons including the lasting impact of trauma post incarceration. While somewhat addressed in the joint press release, we do not yet know any real details.
The HALT advocates should be commended for their incredible work and raising the bar so significantly on this issue. It meant a lot to be a part of the advocacy effort enhanced by MHANYS partnership with Harvey Rosenthal of NYAPRS and his tireless dedication.
While we believe it can be very positive that an agreement has been reached, the specific details are still to be hashed out. We are hopeful that the final language around mental health is broad enough in scope to insure that the horrors of solitary are minimized for people with mental health issues and for every individual that is incarcerated.
Thanks to the many MHA members and other community advocates that made phone calls and contacted legislators about this issue. It has made a huge difference.
STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO, MAJORITY LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS, AND SPEAKER CARL HEASTIE ON JOINT AGREEMENT TO OVERHAUL SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POLICIES
“While we are disappointed that HALT legislation could not be passed this year, we have reached an agreement to dramatically reduce the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities. These new steps build on this year’s landmark reforms and will further help to correct inequities and end inhumane practices in our criminal justice system. Together we will continue to work on this issue, fight to move this state forward and create a stronger, fairer and more just New York for all.”
The terms of this agreement, which will be implemented administratively, include:
- 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 and provisions to ensure that only incarcerated individuals who commit serious misconduct can be sent to special housing units for solitary confinement.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Increasing training of all staff that work within special housing units on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, trauma-informed care, and dispute resolution.