Advocates for mental health were thrilled by State Senate passage today of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.

The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar (S.2836), limits the use of segregated confinement for all incarcerated persons to 15 days, implements alternative rehabilitative measures, including the creation of Residential Rehabilitation Units (RRU), expands the definition of segregated confinement, and eliminates the use of  segregated confinement for vulnerable incarcerated populations. The bill was passed by the Assembly earlier this week.

The bill only needs Governor Cuomo’s signature to become law.

There is also some promise in the legislative one-house proposals for mental health services, according to one long-time advocate.

"The legislature is proposing to restore a cut and a COLA (cost of living adjustment) in the budget that was taken out by the Governor," according to Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the NY Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. "The Legislature is restoring a 5% cut, which happens to be for $17 million. It’s also restoring a 1% cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in the executive budget."

Additionally, the legislature rejected the governor’s proposed expansion of involuntary inpatient and outpatient treatment known as Kendra’s Law.

In its place, Rosenthal is hoping to see renewed funding for a pilot program in Westchester County, designed in part by NYAPRS, called INSET. It’s a peer-led group that has been able to engage 80% of people who would otherwise be in court ordered outpatient care, in jail, in prison or in the hospital.

Rosenthal is also eager to see the legislature fund solutions to deadly police encounters. 

One approach, called CAHOOTS, Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, developed in Eugene Oregon, would ensure that there is staff of unarmed outreach workers and medics trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation provide a first response in place of the police. Another is a proposal to establish Crisis Stabilization Centers, which offer a mix of mental health, substance use and medical services to people who might otherwise be needlessly arrested or hospitalized. A version of such a program can be found in Dutchess County.