Gov. Cuomo signs bill ending long-term solitary confinement in NY prisons

ALBANY, New York (WABC) -- Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Thursday that will end the use of long-term solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails, a far-reaching move that advocates say will fundamentally change life behind bars.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act reforms the practice of segregated confinement in New York State correctional facilities. It limits the amount of time an incarcerated person can spend in segregated confinement to 15 days, clearly defines and reduces the number of disciplinary infractions eligible for segregated confinement, and exempts certain vulnerable populations, including the young, elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and individuals with a serious mental illness.

This legislation also establishes Residential Rehabilitation Units to provide incarcerated individuals with therapeutic and trauma-informed programming in a congregate setting.

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Officials say the expanded program model enacted by the HALT legislation will better address an individual's underlying criminogenic needs and provide greater rehabilitative impacts to change behavior, leading to positive outcomes for individuals transitioning back to the general population.

"Generations of incarcerated men and women have been subjected to inhumane punishment in segregated confinement with little to no human interaction for extended periods of time and many experience emotional and physical trauma that can last for years," Cuomo said. "By signing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act into law, we are reforming New York's criminal justice system by helping ensure the effective implementation of proven, humane corrections policies."

Advocates point to studies that have shown isolation with little or no human contact for extended periods of time often leads to lasting trauma, as well as unintended consequences that are detrimental to an individual's rehabilitation.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act includes:
--A limitation on the amount of time people can spend in segregated confinement or special housing units to 15 days
--The creation of Residential Rehabilitations Units that will afford incarcerated individuals out-of-cell programming and trauma informed care, to address the underlying actions that resulted in their discipline
--The establishment of a minimum amount of out-of-cell time, therapeutic programming and/or recreation
--A restriction on the placement of youth, pregnant women, elderly and individuals with a serious mental illness into segregated confinement
--An increase in the training of all staff that work within special housing units on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, trauma-informed care, and dispute resolution

The legislation builds upon previous regulation changes and reductions in segregated confinement. Additionally, Cuomo secured funding in the FY 2020 budget to make significant infrastructure changes to program space and fund counselors, teachers, and other program staff for the Residential Rehabilitation Units.

Officials say the previous reforms resulted in:
--A reduction in the total number of individuals housed in a SHU cell (regardless of sanction status) by 50%
--A reduction in the number of individuals serving a SHU sanction in a SHU cell by 58%
--A reduction in the number of individuals under the age of 22 housed in a SHU cell by 72%
--A reduction in the median length of stay for individuals serving a SHU sanction in a SHU cell by 20%

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