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New York is poised to limit solitary confinement in prisons and jails to 15 consecutive days

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The bill would specifically put a 15-day limit on internal isolation, making New York one of the first states to follow the rules adopted by the United Nations known as the United Nations. Nelson Mandela Rules, according to the New York Civil Liberty Union (NYCLU).
He Humanitarian alternatives to the long-term isolation law, which went from 42 to 21, would prevent inmates from being held in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days, or 20 days in total in any 60-day period. It would also prohibit the presence of lonely people in people with mental or physical disabilities, pregnant women or the first eight weeks of postpartum recovery, and inmates under the age of 21 or over the age of 55.

Known as the HALT Act, the bill also requires all solitary inmates to receive at least four hours of recreation outside their cells and one hour outside.

Although New York law sets some deadlines as to how often isolation should be reviewed, there is currently no time limit for anyone to stay there.

Eighteen states have enacted statutes that limit or prohibit private isolation, while some states have limited their use through policies, administrative codes, or court rulings, depending on the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The United Nations Mandela Rules define segregation for more than 15 days as torture.

In addition to restrictions on isolation, the bill also requires that solitary confinement be used only for “serious conduct,” such as the risk of “imminent serious physical injury.” Other measures to protect the welfare of inmates are also included in the law, such as the use of residential rehabilitation units, which includes support services and requires more leisure time.

The bill, already passed by the state House, will go to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s table, but it’s unclear if he plans to sign it. CNN has contacted his office.

A similar bill was approved in 2019

In 2019, a similar bill was passed in both the State Chamber and the Senate, but Cuomo did not sign it. Instead, his firm and lawmakers negotiated an agreement to make some of the changes to the bill administratively rather than through state law.

Negotiated terms included a 30-day limit for internal isolation, a solitary ban for vulnerable populations such as adolescents and pregnant women, and widespread use of “specialized units” to move inmates to the general population. a release from Cuomo’s office.

While some of the policies in the 2019 HALT Act were similar to the new bill, some lawmakers say there is no legal support in the 2019 administrative changes and that it ultimately only executes officials. of correction.

Even if Cuomo vetoes the bill, there is a strong possibility that the Democratic-controlled legislature will overturn his veto using his majority. Democrats have a two-thirds majority in the state House and Senate, the amount needed to overturn a government veto.

Senator Michael Gianaris, the deputy leader in the Senate majority, said he expects Cuomo to sign the bill, but that he is willing to use the Democratic super-majority. The bill would come into force a year after it became law.

Opposition to the bill

The bill was opposed by the Correction Officers ‘Benevolent Association (COBA), the New York City Department of Corrections’ corrections staff union. The union argued that restricting the use of isolation would lead to increased violent attacks on correctional officers.

“The governor should put security first and refuse to sign this reckless legislation that will only endanger the lives of our essential correctional agents,” union president Benny Boscio said in a statement on COBA Facebook page.

Some senators strongly opposed the bill, also saying it would jeopardize the safety of correctional officers and inmates.

Republican Sen. Frederick J. Akshar II said he agreed that the state should try to rehabilitate prisoners, as well as reduce recidivism and have a strong readmission program for inmates who fulfill their mandates.

“But in this body we have the responsibility to protect and ensure the safety of the facility, of all inmates who are imprisoned and, equally important, we have the responsibility, as an agency, to ensure the protection of working men and women women working in these facilities, ”Akshar said.

State Senator Julie Salazar, a key sponsor of the bill, countered this narrative by citing several examples from across the country where a reduction in isolation led to less violence. He said studies have shown that “the use of isolation has been consistent with the dramatic decrease in violence in prisons.”

Another issue raised by Senate Republicans is the potential costs of the bill, as $ 100 million is proposed in this year’s state budgets to support its first year as a law. But Salazar said that while there could be some upfront costs, he said some estimates show the act would save money in the long run.

An analysis of the Association for the public good, a community-based think tank in Buffalo, says it could save the state and local municipalities about $ 132 million a year.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman welcomed the passage of the bill in a statement and encouraged Cuomo to sign it.

“New Yorkers elected leaders in the legislature this year with a clear mandate to dismantle the structures of systemic racism and end mass incarceration,” he said. “By passing the HALT Act in both houses, Albany lawmakers have shown that they listen and take action.”

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