Correctional officers union suing Cuomo, NY state over solitary confinement law | WNYT.com

Correctional officers union suing Cuomo, NY state over solitary confinement law

Sam Hesler
Updated: May 10, 2021 01:53 PM
Created: May 10, 2021 12:55 PM

The union representing New York's correctional officers says it's filing a civil rights lawsuit against the state and Gov. Cuomo.

In this lawsuit, NYSCOPBA is really calling for one thing in particular, the repeal of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.

Gov. Cuomo signed this bill into law a little more than a month ago. It limits the amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement to 15 days, and exempts certain populations like young people or elderly inmates from solitary confinement altogether. It also focuses on providing inmates with therapeutic and trauma informed programming.

NYSCOPBA officials say they've seen a rise in assaults against correctional officers and other inmates, and they argue this law, which will take effect next April, makes things more dangerous.

"It will lead to more violence, our prisons will get worse, more innocent people will get hurt, and it won’t be just the violent criminals in the prison system who are to blame. The New York State Legislature, Gov. Cuomo, and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision are just as liable," said Michael Powers, president of NYSCOPBA.

DOCCS released this statement to NewsChannel 13:

While the Department cannot comment on pending litigation, DOCCS has a zero tolerance policy with respect violence in our facilities and pursues both disciplinary charges and criminal prosecution for any assault. A new felony conviction would result in a consecutive sentence of imprisonment.

The HALT bill has been signed into law and DOCCS has been working on a plan to safely implement the law, which still provides for segregated housing for acts of violence against officers and other incarcerated persons.

For additional information, please refer to the Governor’s announcement and comments - https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-halt-solitary-confinement-act-law

Jerome Wright, Statewide Organizer with the #HALTsolitary Campaign, released the following statement: 

"This year, lawmakers in New York heard and heeded the call of survivors of solitary confinement and their families, mental health and medical experts, faith leaders, and community members from every corner of this state and voted with supermajorities to pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. This new law will improve safety for incarcerated people and staff, just as curtailment of solitary confinement has done in other systems. HALT must be fully implemented as soon as possible, and no later than its effective date next April.

To be clear, any assaults on officers or incarcerated people are unacceptable. The question is how does the state prevent and reduce violence. Simply put, solitary confinement is torture. It’s not only harmful and deadly itself, but also leads to violence as people deteriorate. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act will protect people from the terrible harms of long-term solitary, including severe psychosis and suicide, while still allowing the Department to separate people for extended periods of time in secure environments with therapeutic programming proven to actually address dangerous behaviors. 

The reality is that HALT doesn’t take effect for a whole year, and the laws and regulations currently in effect, which allow DOCCS to keep people in solitary for months, years, and even decades, have not prevented the violence NYSCOPBA describes, and most New Yorkers agree we need a new and better way forward."

NewsChannel 13 is reaching out to the state for reaction. If we hear back, we’ll be sure to pass it along on WNYT.com this afternoon, along with our newscasts on TV starting Live at 4.


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