As a result of years-long advocacy, the use of solitary confinement in New York’s jails and prisons will be severely limited or outright banned for certain populations starting in March of next year. Governor Cuomo signed the HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term) Solitary Confinement Act, March 31st which means no one can be placed in solitary for more than 15 days and the practice is outright banned for various populations including minors, seniors and people with disabilities – including individuals with serious mental illness. The practice, deemed by the United Nations as has been found to have lifelong deleterious health and mental health impacts. This legislation is an important first step in undoing the most barbaric practices in the criminal legal system – which disproportionately impact Black people.
According to the Albany Times Union, Black people represent 48% of the prison population, yet are 58% of the population in solitary confinement. And their stays in solitary are longer: A 2016 New York Times investigation found that “at Clinton [prison] … Black inmates were held [in solitary] for an average of 125 days, compared with 90 days for whites.”
Studies have shown that solitary confinement can lead to disastrous mental and physical outcomes, such as suicide, psychosis, self-mutilation and heart disease. For those who survive, the mental and physical toll is enormous. At the same time, we know that about half of people released from state prison to New York City wind up in a shelter.
We heartily congratulate the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement as well as our fellow advocates in the mental health field who have long championed this legislative victory. Harvey Rosenthal of New York State Association Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYSAPRS) said, “People will be spared life destroying pain that has led to crushing hopelessness and suicide Lives will be saved. This will be one of the greatest groundbreaking advances that some of us will see in our lifetimes.”