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Mental Health Update

June 12, 2019
Mental Health Update

MH Update – 6/12/19 – Albany Times Union Op Ed: Let’s Lead The Way On Solitary Confinement Reform

In the waning days of Legislative Session, there is a full court press going on to support the HALT bill. Today’s Albany Times Union has a very powerful Op Ed from Harvey Rosenthal urging support for this legislation.

Viewpoint: Let’s Lead The Way On Solitary Confinement Reform

By Harvey Rosenthal  Albany Times Union  June 12, 2019

Six by nine feet. That’s the average size of the cell in which thousands of New Yorkers linger for weeks, months, and even decades in solitary confinement.

They are locked down for 23 hours a day, without meaningful human contact, programming, or therapy, in cells the size of an elevator.

While in “The Box,” they experience intense suffering and face severe and lasting psychological and neurological damage. They are forced to endure hallucinations, severe anxiety, appetite and weight loss, self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts.

In fact, one-third of all suicides in our state prisons take place in solitary, and people who were held in solitary confinement in New York City jails were nearly seven times more likely to harm themselves.

The damage and risk is even more severe for the over 1,000 New Yorkers with pre-existing mental health illnesses who are confined in solitary confinement in our state prisons and local jails at this very minute.

Landmark legislation known as HALT (Humane Alternatives To Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act) that’s currently before both houses would ban the use of “The Box” for people with mental and other disabilities, and place a 15-day limit on its use for all populations. It would create alternative residential rehabilitation units that promote more humane and effective rehabilitative alternatives for individuals who may need separation from the general population.

In doing so, it will prepare people to serve out their sentences and leave correctional facilities without the trauma and with the skills to make it in prison, jail and in the community. They’ll have a far greater chance of avoiding future contacts with the criminal justice system.

The HALT bill passed the Assembly last year and has more than enough votes to pass both houses this year. But the bill seems to be stuck, with only a few days left in legislative session.

New York must take action now. Discipline for people with disabilities without rehabilitation is torture.

There can be no excuse: Legislators and the governor must not fail to take action this year to make New York the first in the nation to enact legislation that will offer humane alternatives to the soul- and life-taking trauma and torture of solitary confinement, and that will completely eliminate it for our most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Harvey Rosenthal is CEO of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.