Judge Rules New York State Prisons Violated Law by Exceeding Solitary Confinement Limit

The judge has ordered the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to comply with the state law’s requirements.
Judge Rules New York State Prisons Violated Law by Exceeding Solitary Confinement Limit
A solitary confinement cell at New York City's Riker's Island jail on Jan. 28. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Aldgra Fredly

New York State prisons have violated state law by holding inmates in solitary confinement for extended periods, a judge ruled on June 20 following a class action lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York.

The lawsuit was filed in April 2023, alleging that the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) had violated the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT) by subjecting inmates to extended periods of segregated confinement.

The HALT Act, enacted in 2021, prohibits segregated confinement exceeding 15 days for all incarcerated persons and exempts certain individuals from any period of segregated confinement.

In the 15-page ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant said that DOCCS has failed to provide sufficient evidence to refute allegations of non-compliance with the state law.

“DOCCS has the responsibility to submit an administrative record that supports their actions and they have failed to meet this burden,” the judge stated.

Justice Bryant ordered DOCCS to comply with the law’s requirements and “make specific findings-of-fact in any hearings requesting an extended segregated confinement.”

“This Court further finds that any and all determinations made to place members of the certified class in extended segregated confinement … made pursuant to the k(2) Confinement Policy, or determinations made without required specific written findings of fact and conclusions, are hereby declared as null and void,” he stated.

Hallie Mitnick, senior staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, said the ruling marks “an important step forward” toward making the HALT law “a reality for the many incarcerated individuals still suffering the harms of unlawful disciplinary confinement.”

Antony Gemmell, director of Detention Litigation at the NYCLU, welcomed the ruling and said it showed that “prison officials are not above the law.”

“DOCCS has flouted the basic requirements of HALT by routinely imposing extended disciplinary segregation the Legislature saw fit to prohibit,” Mr. Gemmell said in a press release.

A spokesperson for DOCCS told The Epoch Times via email that the agency is reviewing the judge’s decision.

The spokesperson also stated that Commissioner Daniel Martuscello has made “several HALT-related policy changes” since assuming the role in June 2023, including updates to the agency’s policies on segregated confinement. These updates include additional procedure and review, such as requiring “a Confinement Justification Record Form” to be completed and signed by all review officers, hearing officers, and superintendents, they added.

In February last year, a group of 52 state legislators—most of whom sponsored the HALT act—sent a letter to DOCCS expressing concerns over its revised regulations that violate the requirements of the law.

The lawmakers claimed that DOCCS has failed to remedy “many deficiencies” in its previous regulations.

“It is also deeply disturbing that DOCCS has used regulations purportedly intended to implement a law designed to protect the most basic human rights of incarcerated people to drastically restrict the rights of people in New York prisons and their family members by both banning family care packages and vastly expanding the ability to deny people visits with family and friends,” the lawmakers wrote.

Update: This article has been updated to include comment from DOCCS.