ALBANY – New York’s governor expressed concerns Tuesday with a proposal that would restrict the use of solitary confinement, saying the legislation would require the construction of new facilities and cost jails about $1 billion statewide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the comments on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom the same day advocates prodded New York lawmakers to green-light the proposal before they are scheduled to adjourn later this week.
“I am not in favor of building a billion dollars in new jails,” Cuomo said in the interview.
The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote.
The Democratic governor says that he is in favor of safer and more humane procedures, but that the proposal would require the building of a new type of jail known as a residential rehabilitation unit.
“It would say to county jails you now have to build a new jail facility for these different type of units,” he said.
Opponents of solitary confinement liken the practice to torture and say isolation can leave lifelong psychological scars.
They also argued that the legislation would not require any new jails.
A thousand mental health professionals and advocates from around New York have signed on to a proposal to restrict the practice. But supporters worry the bill might not pass.
Prisoners would not be placed in isolation for more than 15 days consecutive days under the legislation. It also stipulates officials cannot impose “restricted diets” as punishment.
Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, issued a statement saying a vote for the proposal is “a direct attack on labor and the law enforcement community.”
“If passed, we will hold them accountable for future prison violence, which is already at dangerous levels,” he said.
Powers said the “special housing units” separate people from the general population when they commit “serious infractions.”
Dozens of people gathered at the New York Capitol as speakers described trauma that stemmed from solitary confinement.
Martin Gromulat, an attorney and mental health advocate, told the crowd he was put in solitary confinement after authorities picked him up during a manic episode. Solitary confinement, he said, is a “matter of life and death.”
“Sick people don’t belong in a jail,” he said. “They certainly don’t belong in solitary confinement.”
Victor Pate, a formerly incarcerated person who experienced solitary confinement, said in an interview Tuesday that the trauma he experienced never went away— even more than two decades after being released.
“Everybody knows it’s just torture,” said Pate, the statewide organizer for the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.
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