Democrat & Chronicle: Solitary confinement in New York prisons: Why advocates are again seeking reforms

Feb. 11, 2020 – Will this be the year New York will curb solitary confinement in New York’s prison system?

Advocacy groups and Democrats in the state Legislature are revisiting a long-stalled measure that would limit the use of solitary confinement of prisoners, saying the practice is inhumane and can lead to long-term health issues.

They are backing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which would put strict restrictions on when solitary could be employed.

“Thousands of people in New York are suffering in solitary confinement right now, and tens of thousands each year,” the groups wrote in a memo to legislative leaders last month.

The groups were in Albany again on Tuesday, imploring lawmakers to act during the legislative session that runs into early June.

Advocates have pointed to a United Nations report several years ago that determined any length of time in solitary beyond 15 days amounts to torture.

Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, who sponsors a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in the state, told advocates at the Tuesday rally he will not rest until the measure passes.

Sepulveda likened solitary confinement to torture and said the state has a moral obligation to end the practice.

“I don’t want to live in a state where we are violating rules of the United Nations when we are a member nation of the United Nations,” Sepulveda said.

The supporters of the change contended New York prisons can leave inmates in solitary confinement for months or even years, and the practice disproportionately impacts black and Latinx people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has proposed changes, but the groups said his measures would still not effectively limit it.

The state Department of Corrections has indicated it would consider increasing the amount of time prisoners in solitary confinement are allowed out of their cell from one hour to five hours each day.