Pass #HALTsolitary on the Next Session Day!
Dear Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie,
We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to bring the HALT Solitary Confinement Act to a vote on the very next day the legislature is in session in January. We appreciate your ongoing commitment to this issue and urge you to partner with us now to pass HALT. As you know, Governor Cuomo recently issued proposed regulations about solitary confinement. Advertised as reform, these regulations would actually permit years and decades of solitary confinement to continue.
Thousands of people in New York are suffering in solitary confinement right now, and tens of thousands each year. In 2011 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture determined that any length of time in solitary beyond 15 days amounts to torture, and in turn, in 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted rules banning solitary beyond 15 days for all people. Yet in New York, people regularly spend months, years, and even decades in solitary. Black and Latinx people are disproportionately sent to solitary, as are transgender/gender non-conforming people, young people, and people with mental health needs. Solitary causes devastating mental, physical, and emotional harm, and even death. 30% of suicides in New York prisons take place in solitary, and a study in New York City jails found people in solitary are seven times more likely to harm themselves.
Among other limitations, the Governor's proposed regulations would continue to permit people to be locked in solitary confinement for years through endless cycles of “time-limited” solitary with no meaningful break or unlimited time in keeplock, another form of solitary without guaranteed access to meaningful human interaction, even for the most minor rule violations. These regulations would also take years before they impose any so-called “limitations” on how long a person can be in solitary, and even once fully implemented would continue to explicitly permit people to be locked in solitary for lengths that amount to torture under United Nations standards, including for broadly defined nonviolent behavior. Moreover, people would still be able to be warehoused indefinitely (for months, years, and even decades) in the kind of solitary by another name that took the life of Layleen Polanco and has destroyed the minds and lives of countless others. In addition, young people, people with mental illness, and elderly people with acute health conditions would still be subject to this horrific treatment, continuing the horrible practices that have taken the lives of Ben Van Zandt and so many others. Further, the whole system of solitary will continue to operate without meaningful transparency or independent oversight.
We will continue to urge the Governor to make more comprehensive and effective changes, including by implementing the provisions of HALT administratively. But we are asking you to do your part now. The Governor has had the power to end this torture since he took office in 2011 and instead he has allowed scores of thousands of people to be subjected to solitary for months, years, and some for decades. His current proposed regulations unfortunately will maintain too much of the status quo and fall far short of what is truly needed to end the torture of prolonged solitary.
Please stand with us - people who have lost their loved ones to solitary, people who have survived solitary, and other allies who wish to see all people free from this torture - by passing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Survivors of solitary, family members who have had or lost loved ones in solitary, and other allies and experts all across New York State have been educating the public, the press, Legislators and other policy-makers for the last seven years about the horrors of solitary and the need for HALT. As a result, as you know, HALT has more than enough support in both houses of the legislature to pass. There are 34 Senate cosponsors, 79 Assembly cosponsors, and other Senators and Assembly Members who committed to vote for the bill, including from both parties.
Every day without HALT, we continue to feel the devastating impacts of solitary confinement. As one among countless examples, one of the #HALTsolitary campaign member's 21-year-old loved one has in the last couple months attempted on multiple occasions to commit suicide in a solitary cell in some of the current purported alternatives to solitary. He has thankfully so far survived, but he has been shuffled from one terrible purported alternative unit to another and his mind and his being have rapidly deteriorated to a shell of himself. Every day that goes by without HALT's enactment will mean another mind destroyed and the possibility of another life lost.
We urge that you bring HALT to a vote on the next day the legislature is in session in January, and that the Senate and the Assembly pass the bill, so we can finally end this torture in NY.
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