New York Advocates Urge Solitary Confinement Changes

Photo: Alan Pogue / Texas Center for Documentary Photography

ALBANY — New York advocates are pushing a bill this session that would ban placement of a prisoner in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.

Legislation supporters chanted at the State Capitol this week and urged lawmakers to pass the proposal, which did not cross the finish line at the end of last year’s session.

In June, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced a separate plan to restrict the use of solitary confinement through administrative channels. But, the legislation supported by advocates would go further to curb solitary confinement.

″(It’s) long way past time that they reformed solitary confinement,” said Victor Pate, a formerly incarcerated person who spent time in solitary confinement and is urging lawmakers to pass the legislation.

Advocates, who panned solitary confinement as torture, highlighted cases where prisoners killed themselves in isolation or after being exposed to it. They say the bill would apply to both state prisons and county jails. Experts have long expressed concerns that solitary confinement is not suitable for people who are mentally ill or trying to hurt themselves.

State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat from New York City who is sponsoring the bill, said he has found no evidence that solitary confinement changes behavior or improves the well-being of inmates or correction officers. The state, he said, must devote more resources to treatment and services that improve behavior.

Another bill supporter, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, said lawmakers were close to passing the legislation last session and argued that New York’s use of solitary confinement needs to be fixed.

“We’re faced with a system where we have mindless approaches to incarceration that punish people for no reason whatsoever,” said the Manhattan Democrat.

The correctional officers’ union opposed restrictions on solitary confinement last year. The union’s president has said those housing units separate “dangerous” people from the inmate general population.

Meanwhile, a state watchdog agency has repeatedly found that the prisons it inspects aren’t abiding by current solitary confinement rules.

Eight of the 25 prisons visited by the Justice Center in 2018 failed to meet existing solitary confinement regulations due to mental health and suicide assessments, along with follow-up visits, not being completed in certain time frames.


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