HALT Solitary Confinement Act

Published on January 30th, 2019

Memorandum of Support

RE: A.2500 Aubry / S.1623 Sepulveda
HALT Solitary Confinement Act

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement. The New York State Catholic Conference strongly supports this legislation.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced solitary confinement that exceeds 15 days. Additionally, there are far too many people in isolation, disproportionately people of color. On any given day, there are nearly 3,000 people in isolated confinement in New York State prisons, locked in concrete 6-by-10-foot cells for 23 hours a day.

In 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced its opposition to the increasing use of isolation units, and in 2014, Pope Francis stated, one form of torture is … confinement in high security prisons …the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany wrote in an April 9, 2016, op/ed in the Times Union: “Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities. For all Americans committed to building a safer, healthier society, we cannot ignore the mental illness, debilitating trauma and recidivism that are the hallmarks of placing inmates in solitary confinement.”

We have supported the February 2015 settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), in which the state agreed to immediately begin to remove pregnant and mentally disabled prisoners from segregation. Unfortunately, there continues to be a significant use of solitary confinement in the state’s prison system and, as Bishop Scharfenberger wrote, “Still, more must be done to end the use of solitary confinement here in the Empire State.” 

We applaud the sponsors, Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Luis Sepulveda, for their persistence in passing this needed reform and we urge its quick passage by the legislature.