Solitary confinement reform put off another year
Sep 09, 2020 2:00 pm
Rosa Goldensohn and Reuven Blau are reporting for The City a year has passed since a bill to impose major limits on the use of solitary confinement in state prisons was anticipated in Albany, with the promise to amend New York’s practice of punishing the incarcerated by depriving them of human contact. That bill, the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT, would have limited stays in solitary confinement to 15 days. In response, the Cuomo administration considered a set of proposed rule changes that, with some exceptions, would place a 30-day cap on isolating individuals, but so far those changes have not been adopted. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision put forward a new version of the rules the day before the proposal expired on August 27, pushing the deadline for the 30-day limit back a year, until 2023. People in solitary confinement in state prisons generally spend 23 or 24 hours alone each day, with one hour in a cage for so-called outdoor recreation. Individuals are frequently isolated in a special housing unit, a small room specifically identified for solitary confinement, with meals delivered through a slot in the door. As of September 1, more than 1,700 of the 37,000 people incarcerated by the state were confined to a solitary unit, according to DOCCS. The United Nations considers more than 15 consecutive days of solitary confinement to be a form of torture. Corrections departments and officer unions defend the practice as a tool for control. Doug Van Zandt, whose son Ben died by suicide in a cell at age 21 after spending time in solitary confinement at Fishkill Correctional Facility, said it has been difficult to muster urgency among elected officials to improve the treatment of the incarcerated. “The way the general population in America thinks is that if you committed a crime, then you deserve whatever happens to you in prison, so nobody really cares that much,” Van Zandt said. “And of course, we’ve seen that with a lot of the politicians, like Cuomo.” Read the full story at the city [dot] nyc.