HALT Solitary Confinement Act – Chapter Amendments
Published on April 5th, 2021
Memorandum of Concern
Re: Chapter Amendments to Ch. 93 of Laws of 2021
HALT Solitary Confinement Act
We congratulate the legislature and Gov. Cuomo on the passage and signing of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act after many years of advocacy by a wide range of organizations, including the New York State Catholic Conference. Because the bill was signed with an approval memo indicating the potential for chapter amendments, we ask the legislature to consider the following points.
First, any chapter amendments should not occur during a hectic budget process, with no input from stakeholders. It should be done after the budget is completed and the legislature returns to regular session. The provisions of HALT do not take effect for a year, so there is ample time for sober consideration. Men and women who have spent time in solitary confinement and/or family members of those confined must be given an opportunity to be heard, as should other experts and members of the public. The language of proposed amendments, which can be subtle, will be critical in determining if the changes correct minor flaws or effectively gut the law before it begins.
To that point, chapter amendments must not weaken the core protections of HALT, including the act’s limit on 15 consecutive days in solitary confinement (in line with international prohibitions on torture), the amount of out-of-cell time for programming and activities people are offered, time limits on alternatives, and other related provisions.
The Governor’s approval memo indicated the need to address situations where a person must be separated from the general population, including where someone engaged in multiple violent acts. We share the Governor’s concern for the safety of corrections officers and other incarcerated individuals. However, HALT’s provisions already address such situations. HALT provides that people can be separated to segregated confinement for up to 15 days, and then separated to an alternative Residential Rehabilitation Unit (RRU) for up to a year. RRUs are highly restrictive but, importantly, also provide for out-of-cell engagement and programing to address the underlying causes of violent conduct. The act also provides for increased restrictions for individuals who continue to engage in violent conduct or other problematic behavior.
In conclusion, we urge the legislature to take a cautious approach in negotiating language on chapter amendments, so as not to inadvertently reverse the progress that has been made by your laudable passage of this legislation, and the Governor’s signing of it into law.