HALT Act Fails To Pass In State Legislature

The HALT Act, which would restrict use of segregated confinement and mandates that county governments create residential rehabilitation units, was not passed during the state Legislature’s legislative session that ended Thursday.

New York Association of Counties members said the costs could reach hundreds of millions of dollars for counties. Fiscal implications to both the state and local governments are listed as “to be determined.”

Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, had voted against the act during committee votes earlier this year.

The proposed bill would end long-term isolation, and limit inmates’ stay in solitary confinement to 15 days.

Currently, there is no limit as to how long inmates can be placed in solitary.

The bill would also ban certain populations from enduring solitary confinement for any length of time, including any person 21 years or younger, 55 years or older, pregnant, a new mother, or someone with a physical, mental, or medical disability.

“The governor and state lawmakers this session have successfully enacted sweeping criminal justice reforms designed to support a more just and fair system, and we believe there is more to be done that could support the health and well-being of those who are incarcerated,” said Daniel P. McCoy, Albany County Executive and President of the NYS County Executives Association.

“However this particular proposal, while noble in its intent and while addressing many issues of real concern regarding solitary confinement, would require the creation of new alternate facilities for inmates, which could cost tens of millions of dollars for each county to implement. Without a dedicated funding stream included in this bill, my fear is that the costs would only be passed onto the property taxpayers of New York. Accordingly, I ask legislators to consider the impact on localities and to identify funding before passing on another unfunded mandate to already overburdened local governments.”

Earlier this week during an appearance on WAMC radio in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo referenced the solitary confinement bill and said he has concerns about the cost of the legislation as well.

“We are discussing solitary confinement,” Cuomo said.

“I agree that we have to do reforms, that it’s gone way too far. Much of the treatment is inhumane. I don’t want to build $300 million in new prison cells. I am proud that I’ve closed more prison cells than any governor in the history of the state of New York and I’m not about to build $300 million more in jail cells. That’s just totally inconsistent with everything that we’re doing. So, that we’re trying to work through.”

State officials said late Thursday night an agreement had been reached on changes that could be implemented administratively, including:

¯ The strict prohibition of placement of vulnerable incarcerated individuals such as adolescents, pregnant women, and the disabled within a special housing unit for solitary confinement and provisions to ensure that only incarcerated individuals who commit serious misconduct can be sent to special housing units for solitary confinement.

¯ Ensuring that the duration of time incarcerated individuals will be permitted to be housed within a special housing unit for solitary confinement will ultimately be capped at 30 days.

¯ Expanding the use of specialized units by DOCCS where individuals released from solitary confinement will be housed before being returned to the general population area of the facility. While housed in these specialized units, incarcerated individuals will receive programming and treatment tailored to promote personal development and rehabilitation and staff assigned to these units will be required to undergo additional training.

¯ Ensuring that incarcerated individuals housed within one of the specialized units will be able to earn an early release back to the general population area of the facility by completing the programming assigned to them before the expiration of the imposed sanction.

There will also be a presumption that any loss of good time will be restored to individuals who successfully complete their rehabilitation program.

¯ Ensuring that incarcerated individuals will not be denied essential services as a form of discipline and DOCCS will not impose restricted diets or any other changes in diet as punishment.

¯ Making clear that solitary confinement will be a reserved punishment for serious conduct that creates significant risk to the safety and security of correctional facilities and the individuals within.

¯ Increasing training of all staff that work within special housing units on de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, trauma-informed care, and dispute resolution.