Advocates, formerly incarcerated individuals and families are all banding together for a last minutes push to support HALT legislation. Listed below is a series of articles and stories in the media related to this issue.
Individuals with mental health related issues should not have to spend 23 hours of the day in solitary confinement. In what world, does it make sense to have someone in solitary confinement who has in all likelihood serious trauma issues, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and possibly hallucinations. Issues will be exacerbated and not diminished. Makes no sense pragmatically, programmatically or humanely.
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.”
Solitary Confinement Comes Under Fire In Albany
By JOE MAHONEY CNHI State Reporter June 1, 2019
ALBANY — Opponents of the state prison system’s use of solitary confinement to discipline misbehaving inmates say they are making headway at the statehouse with their push to greatly restrict a practice that critics say is cruel and inhumane.
More than 100 lawmakers have signed on to legislation known as the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Confinement Act, or HALT. The measure has the support of the state’s Roman Catholic bishops as well as several Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations and representatives of mental health groups.
“Going into a box for 23 hours a day is the worst therapeutic environment there is for someone with a mental health issue,” said Glenn Liebman, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of New York State. “Their trauma issues are only going to be exacerbated and their mania issues are only going to be exacerbated.”
According to statistics kept by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Special Housing Unit cells — the name used by the state for solitary — held 2,365 inmates as of May 1. That was down from 2,516 inmates in “the box” — the term used by inmates — on Feb. 1.
While state corrections officials have described the practice of directing inmates to be held in solitary following disciplinary proceedings as an important disciplinary device, the critics argue that several states have reduced reliance on such units without compromising prison security.
For instance, they point to Colorado, which has reduced its solitary population from 1,500 inmates to 18 and now has a 15-day limit for the special housing units.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has registered its opposition to the measure. It had also tried to derail earlier restrictions placed by state officials on special housing, saying the attempts to cut back on solitary have put corrections officers and inmates at risk.
Albany’s only lawmaker who was once a member of that union, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said his experience from 20 years as a corrections officer has convinced him that the system needs to keep solitary confinement as a disciplinary option to maintain order behind prison walls.
“You do need to separate certain inmates from the rest of the population at times,” Jones said. “That is for the overall safety of the facility — for the people who work there, including the civilians, and for the rest of the inmates.”
Jones noted that inmates, before being directed to spend time in solitary, have hearings at which they have the right of due process.
Over the years, New York’s prison agency has been embroiled in litigation with the New York Civil Liberties Union over the reliance on solitary confinement. In recent years, state officials say they have greatly reduced the use of special housing units for misconduct. Since a settlement was reached with the civil rights group in 2016, there has been a 42 percent reduction in the use of such cells, according to the agency.
Asked about the lobbying battle for this year’s legislation, a spokesman for the department, Thomas Mailey, responded with a prepared statement:
“Earlier this year, Governor (Andrew) Cuomo proposed comprehensive legislation to transform the use of solitary confinement in state facilities and the Legislature failed to act on it. The Department does not comment on proposed legislation.”
Backers of the HALT legislation argue that being placed in solitary has led some inmates to kill themselves while others have had lasting psychological trauma.
Under the bill, the state would still be able to separate unruly inmates from the general population but could only do so for no longer than 15 days. The state would also have to create units with rehabilitation services to address the underlying reasons why an inmate needs to be taken out of general population.
The measure would also ban the practice of putting inmates with mental illnesses into solitary confinement.
Bill sponsors are hoping the legislation will hit the floor of the Senate and Assembly in the coming weeks. The legislative session is scheduled to conclude June 19, though an extension is a possibility.