Prison reform advocates rallied outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan offices and the executive mansion in Albany Sunday, to demand he sign the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT Act) into law.
Prolonged solitary confinement has long been classified by as torture, but holding prisoners in extreme isolation for weeks, months and even years has been common in New York prisons.
The bill, passed by the state Senate Thursday, would put an end to that.
Jerome R. Wright, statewide organizer for the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, said Cuomo must sign the bill immediately to send a clear message.
“That criminal justice in this state is not going to be done with trauma and torture,” Wright asserted. “That it’s going to be done with treatment, programming and rehabilitative services.”
Cuomo has not indicated whether he will sign the bill. Some corrections officers argue the HALT Act would take away an important disciplinary tool and put officers at risk.
But Wright noted the HALT Act doesn’t prevent the separation of violent or disruptive prisoners. He added treating prisoners humanely actually makes prisons safer for everyone.
“Every place that something like this has been enacted in other states and jurisdictions, they report a 25% to 75% drop in violence,” Wright observed.
The bill prohibits solitary confinement longer than 15 days for all people in prison, and eliminates it completely for those under age 21, over 55, people with disabilities, pregnant women and women caring for children.
Prolonged isolation has serious impacts on mental health and has been banned by the United Nations, and Wright pointed out the United States is bound by the UN’s Convention Against Torture.
“You can’t be the lawmaker and the lawbreaker,” Wright insisted. “It’s about time we started following the law, like the rest of the civilized world, although we call ourselves the ‘most civilized place on the planet.'”