Speaker Carl Heastie, Corrections Committee Chair David I. Weprin and Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry today announced that the Assembly passed the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which would limit the time an inmate can spent in segregated confinement, end the use of the practice for vulnerable people and create more humane and effective alternatives (A.2277-A, Aubry).
“The Assembly Majority is committed to assuring that our state’s criminal justice system is that - just,” Speaker Heastie said. “The HALT Solitary Confinement Act will put an end to the inhumane practice of keeping people in solitary confinement for long periods of time, and help ensure that people get the mental health treatment that they need while in prison.”
“Prolonged use of solitary confinement is proven to have detrimental effects on a person’s mental health” said Assemblymember Weprin. “Passing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act will make necessary changes in our corrections system, and I will continue working with my Assembly Majority colleagues as we seek to reform our criminal justice system.”
“Study after study has shown the damaging effects of solitary confinement on a person’s mental health, and I have seen with my own eyes the impacts this inhumane practice has had on my constituents,” Assemblymember Aubry said. “It is time that we curtail the use of solitary confinement in New York State, and implement real changes in our criminal justice system that will get people the care they need.”
Despite evidence that solitary confinement is detrimental to a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing, the current statutes do not limit the amount of time a person may spend in a specialized housing unit (SHU) or segregated confinement. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would, subject to limited exceptions, prohibit the placement of an incarcerated person in segregated confinement for more than 15 days or 20 out of 60 days unless specific crimes are committed while in confinement. It would also provide for mental health screenings and a heightened level of care for prisoners placed in segregated confinement. The legislation also prohibits the routine placement of individuals needing protective custody in solitary confinement, provides for periodic review of a person’s placement in the separate residential rehabilitation units and prohibits the use of restraints in residential rehabilitation units unless necessary for safety.
Studies have consistently found that subjecting people to segregated confinement for 22 to 24 hours a day without meaningful human contact, programming or therapy can cause deep and permanent psychological, physical, developmental and social harm, and that people placed in solitary confinement thereafter may have a more difficult time complying with prison rules. Despite these proven harms, at any given time there are approximately 3,000 people in New York State prisons in segregated confinement, some for months, years and even decades.
A United Nations Special Report on Torture concluded that solitary confinement can amount to torture and recommended abolishing its use beyond 15 days and prohibiting any use of solitary confinement for vulnerable groups or for purposes of punishment.