New York to curtail use of solitary confinement in prisons
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is going to restrict the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, despite failing to pass legislation that would have prohibited putting a prisoner in isolation for more than 15 consecutive days.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, all Democrats, said Thursday they’ve agreed to “dramatically reduce” the use of solitary confinement by implementing changes administratively.
The deal would prohibit certain “vulnerable” prisoners from being put in solitary, including pregnant women and adolescents.
In a news release, they said they would “ultimately” cap the amount of time prisoners can spend in solitary confinement at 30 days. It says the agreement would increase training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.
There are about 47,000 inmates in the state’s prisons.
Cuomo, who has said he favors safer and more humane procedures, aired concerns earlier this week over the legislative proposal. The legislative plan, he said, would require the construction of new facilities and cost jails about $1 billion statewide.
“The solution is often not as easy as the political rhetoric,” he said Friday.
Supporters of the proposal argued the legislation would not require any new jails. They also compare the practice to torture and say solitary can leave lifelong psychological scars.
New York mental health professionals and advocates had also signed a proposal to restrict isolation.
A campaign pushing for the legislative measure issued a statement saying the measure would have passed if it received a vote.
“As a result of this appalling act of cowardice people will continue to be tortured and will die. We are devastated,” according to a statement from the #HALTsolitary Campaign.
The campaign said they had been given assurances the measure was a priority for both chambers.
Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, came out against the proposal and described it as “a direct attack on labor and the law enforcement community.”
Through a spokesman, the association Friday declined to comment on the new agreement.
Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, said a 30-day limit on isolation will be implemented as soon as possible.
New York lawmakers have addressed other criminal justice reform topics this session.
A key item in the state budget eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent arrests. Another criminal justice reform item in the budget requires officers to issue appearance tickets, instead of taking someone into custody for low-level crimes.
Ryan Tarinelli is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage in a partnership with The Associated Press for New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.