Under the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which is set to take effect in one year, solitary confinement in the state’s correctional facilities will be limited to 15 consecutive days, while the practice will be completely banned for certain “vulnerable” inmates, including minors, people over 55, pregnant inmates, and those with disabilities.
“Generations of incarcerated men and women have been subjected to inhumane punishment in segregated confinement with little to no human interaction for extended periods of time and many experience emotional and physical trauma that can last for years,” Cuomo said in a statement, a day after signing the bill.
It will also establish new Residential Rehabilitation Units to provide prisoners with “therapeutic and trauma-informed programming in a congregate setting” that will “better address an individual’s underlying criminogenic needs,” a release from Cuomo’s office states.
The Democratic governor said by signing the act into law, the state’s criminal justice system is being reformed by helping ensure the effective implementation of “proven, humane corrections policies.”
He added, “I applaud the bill sponsors and look forward to continuing our work to reform the era of mass incarceration and usher in a safer, more just Empire State.”
New York Sen. Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the new law “will put an end to the use of long-term solitary confinement in our state, a practice that has perpetuated violence and caused irreparable harm.”
Hours before Cuomo’s announcement, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, called on the governor to sign the bill and to “end this torture as a matter of racial justice & basic human rights.”
A bill to halt solitary confinement in New York failed to pass in 2019 in part because of opposition from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which argued that ending the practice would make prisons less safe.
The move has been criticized by corrections union officials in the state, who say it will endanger their officers and fellow inmates, Fox News reported.
“They’re putting out this image that New York State still has solitary confinement like it’s The Shawshank Redemption or Alcatraz, where they throw people in a hole—there’s no light. You don’t know what time of day it is,” Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association, told the news outlet.
He added, ”It’s a complete falsehood. It doesn’t exist in New York State. That hasn’t existed in decades, if not longer.”
Sullivan added that detention facilities in the state follow a practice called “administrative segregation,” which is defined by the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice “used to separate those deemed to pose a significant threat to institutional security from the general population.”
“The sponsors for this legislation propose that this bill will reduce violence, when in actuality, it emboldens these inmates because they know there’s no real true consequence for their actions,” Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officer Police Benevolent Association told Fox News. “And we’re seeing it consistently.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.