More than 100 lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor a bill opposing solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the state.
HALT— or the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Confinement Act— aims to create units to rehabilitate inmates, allowing for six hours of programming and one hour of recreation daily.
"The adverse effects of solitary confinement, on mental health, have been well-documented," said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern).
That's why advocates are hoping the HALT Act will change the way some inmates are treated in New York State.
"This legislation forces us to look at another way forward to make sure that corrections officers still have a disciplinary method," said Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown). "Just not using always solitary confinement and using it to the extreme measures that we've seen have had disasterous results."
Right now, inmates are confined to solitary housing units for 23 hours a day.
"If the goal is to get them out into the community to be productive members of society after they've served the terms of their incarceration, don't we want them to not have to deal with ramifications of something that might have a traumatic impact for years and years?" said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State.
Mental health advocates are standing behind the bill citing high suicide rates among those in solitary, as well as research which shows worsening of mental health issues.
"People oftentimes go in there that do not have a mental health issue," said Victor Pate, statewide organizer for Campaign For Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. "But oftentimes, because of the extreme deprivation and isolation and lack of human contact, oftentimes come out with mental health issues."
The new bill allows for segregation of certain inmates but only for 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a 2-month period. It eliminates solitary confinement for anyone under age 21, over 55, anyone who has a mental health issue, a woman who is pregnant or caring for a child while in jail.
Advocates say New York is a leader is social justice and should follow suit of other states who've made change.
"We've seen examples in other states, in Maine and Colorado, they've essentially completely eliminated solitary confinement and the results have been tremendously positive for people," Liebman said.
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association is against the bill. A spokesperson said in a statement:
"Misconceptions surrounding special housing units have clouded the community’s perception. Let’s be clear. Solitary confinement does not exist in New York. The dramatized version of solitary confinement that Hollywood has portrayed bears no similarity to actual practices put in place for special housing units. This only distracts from the real issue. Designed with safety for all in mind, special housing units separate dangerous individuals from the general population, and only when they commit serious infractions. They also provide safety to incarcerated individuals who would be subject to dangerous situations among the general population. The NYCLU settlement reached as a result of Peoples v. Annucci significantly reformed how special housing units are used, and has not yet fully been implemented. We need a full accounting of how exactly that has impacted our correctional facilities before any additional restrictions are implemented."
The Senate Bill is currently scheduled for the floor. The Assembly Bill version is still in committee.