Last Wednesday, activists throughout New York, from Long Island and Brooklyn to Albany, Rochester and Buffalo, rallied in person and virtually for the passage of the bill.
Survivors of solitary confinement and their families spoke about the impact of the practice, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, over 30 percent of all suicides in New York’s prisons from 2014 to 2016 took place in solitary confinement.
“It is indisputable that time in solitary compromises your immune system,” said Jerome Wright, an organizer with CAIC.
If passed, the legislation would limit solitary confinement to 15 days for all people, or 20 days in any 60-day period. It would also prohibit the practice altogether for people with mental illness, pregnant women and other special populations.
The HALT bill would replace solitary confinement with alternatives that are designed to address behavioral issues.
According to advocates, the legislation has 34 co-sponsors in the State Senate, and at least 79 co-sponsors in the Assembly, which passed the bill in 2018.
“There is no excuse to not pass this,” Wright said. “We cannot afford to lose another person.”
Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi noted that the United Nations dictates that any solitary confinement that exceeds 15 days is a “form of torture.” New York’s laws allow the practice to exceed that number by another 15 days, she said.
“We know the psychological effects of solitary confinement,” she said. “It has led to individuals taking their own lives.”
Biaggi added that passing the bill is not hard to do or “ethically challenging.” She said the pressure placed on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill into law, should it pass, will not stop.
“If he doesn’t sign it, he is condoning torture,” she said.
State Senator Julia Salazar added that they have heard many excuses for why the legislature has not passed the HALT bill, including its fiscal impact. But she said no excuse justifies the continued use of the practice in New York.
“It’s totally unjustified,” she said. “It’s time for the legislature to convene virtually and pass this legislation.”
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, who has served in Albany for six years, said it’s “mind-boggling” that the legislation hasn’t passed in her tenure, which she blamed partly on the governor.
“The facts and science tell us that the lack of human contact causes people to deteriorate physically and mentally,” Simon said. “People who are imprisoned are at greater danger from COVID-19 and from any kind of health problem.
“The facts and science support the termination of solitary confinement in New York,” she added.