HALT Solitary Confinement Act

Published on February 24th, 2021

Memorandum of Support

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Re: S2836 Salazar / A2277-A Aubry
HALT Solitary Confinement Act

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would limit the time an incarcerated person can spend in solitary 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.

Incarcerated people do not surrender their human dignity when the prison doors close behind them. People in isolated confinement are locked in cells 22 to 24 hours per day, with no limits on how long they can be held there. They are denied meaningful human contact, health care and opportunities for religious services. The deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness fundamentally alter the brain and can cause immense psychological suffering, self-harm, and often lead to suicide. Issues with which people enter segregated confinement — mental illness, addiction, anger, despair — are only exacerbated by extreme isolation. Additionally, a disproportionate number of those in solitary confinement are people of color.

Solitary confinement 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 segregated confinement.

The Catholic Church has long opposed overuse of segregated confinement. The Bishops of the United States spoke out against the increasing use of isolation units more than two decades ago. 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.”

We supported the 2015 settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in which the state agreed to immediately begin to remove pregnant prisoners and those with mental disabilities from segregation. Unfortunately, there continues to be a significant use of solitary confinement in the state’s prison system. We applaud the sponsors for addressing this issue and urge passage of this legislation.