Governor Signs HALT Bill, Restricting Solitary Confinement

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A solitary confinement cell known all as "the bing," at New York's Rikers Island jail. New York state prisoners in solitary confinement or other units in which inmates are isolated were over five times more likely to kill themselves compared to prisoners in general confinement, according to a report from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. (Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo)

BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the HALT bill, limiting the use of solitary confinement to 15 days for those inmates in state prisons and county jails.

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act creates new rehabilitation measures for those who have been in solitary and prohibits solitary for special populations, including those aged 21 or younger, those aged 55 or older and those who are pregnant or have a disability. It also requires the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to publish monthly reports on its website, with semi-annual and annual cumulative reports of the total number of people in segregated confinement.

Sen. Julia Salazar, chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, called prolonged segregated confinement “state-sanctioned torture.”

“HALT will bring New York in compliance with this international standard and save the state tens of millions of dollars over the next several years,” Salazar said.

Advocates of the measure also pointed to the damage resulting from solitary.

“For many years, survivors of solitary confinement and families who have lost loved ones in solitary have led a campaign to end this torture and replace it with safer and more effective interventions. Freedom from torture is the most basic of human rights, and yet every year tens of thousands of New Yorkers are subjected to it in the form of solitary confinement for weeks, months, years, and even decades,” said Jerome Wright, statewide organizer for the #HALTsolitary Campaign and a survivor of more than seven years in solitary confinement when the Senate passed the bill.

He said the measure will “forever change the punishment paradigm, moving away from torture and toward treatment.”

Advocates also expect HALT to provide greater relief for people of color, who are incarcerated at higher rates than white people.