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Letter: Solitary confinement needs to be reformed

Solitary confinement needs to be reformed

Nearly 4,000 people are held in solitary or isolated confinement in New York prisons for months, often years, occasionally decades. The conditions are brutal: alone all the time, in a barren 6x9 cell 23 hours a day, with no education, rehabilitation, meaningful human relationships or productive activities. Such conditions destroy a person’s mind and soul. Under international rules affirmed by the U.S. government, they are forbidden beyond 15 days, or at any duration for especially vulnerable people such as youth. Yet these conditions are inflicted routinely by our state government, in the majority of cases on people guilty only of a nonviolent violation of prison rules. Even youth, people struggling with mental illness and those with physical or cognitive challenges are treated in this way.

We can stop this abuse of human rights. The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Bill, A3080/S4784, would limit the current kind of solitary to 15 days, exclude vulnerable groups and provide units separate from the general population but providing rehabilitative and therapeutic programming, and significant time out of cell, for the small minority of incarcerated persons who are a real threat to others.

This bill now has the support of a majority of members of the Assembly, including 68 co-sponsors and many others who promise to vote for it. Nine of the 13 members of the Corrections Committee are co-sponsors. But the bill has not come up for a vote, even in committee. Please contact Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (518-455-3791) and Corrections Committee Chairman David Weprin (518-455-5806) and urge them to allow the Assembly to vote on the bill.

Stephen Hart

Secretary, WNY Group, New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

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