New York state prisons are violating a law that went into effect in April by keeping people incarcerated in solitary confinement for more than 15 days, according to data cited by a group that has advocated for the passage of the law.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported that 228 incarcerated people were in solitary confinement for more than 15 days as of August 1. Under the humane alternatives to long-term solitary confinement law, known as HALT, the use of solitary confinement is limited to 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a 60-day period.
Data released by DOCCS shows the average length of stay in segregation is 16.1 days, with 50 incarcerated people held in special housing units between 31 and 90 days. The maximum length of stay, depending on the department, was 72 days.
Jerome Wright, a former inmate who is co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, blasted DOCCS in a statement.
“Survivors of solitary confinement and our families are appalled that DOCCS continues to traumatize, torture and sometimes even kill members of our community in flagrant violation of the law,” says Wright. “When we break a rule in prison, we experience the inhumanity of solitary confinement. I suffered eight years of solitary confinement, mostly for bogus infractions. What happens when they break the law? The status quo must go.
State lawmakers have also criticized the department, with Congressman Jeffrion Aubry saying it is “deeply disturbing” that the DOCCS keeps inmates in solitary confinement for more than 15 days. State Senator Julia Salazar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Victims of Crime, Crime and Corrections, pledged to continue working to “to ensure that prisons are fully compliant with the law”.
In a statement, DOCCS said it “constantly monitors the status of inmates housed in cells (special housing units) and makes every effort to carry out transfers as quickly as possible. Timely transfer referrals are submitted and transfers occur when appropriate space is available. DOCCS also has specific policies in place associated with the implementation and application of HALT, including central office review and redundancies to ensure compliance.
HALT has faced criticism from state corrections officers who blame the law for an increase in assaults on staff over the past five months. According to the DOCCS, assaults on staff are on course to break the record (1,177) set in 2021. There were 995 assaults on staff in the first eight months of the year.
Most of the assaults took place in maximum security prisons and did not result in serious injury. But in the past three months, eight injuries have been classified as serious, meaning they have had to be taken to hospital for treatment.
The #HALTsolitary campaign countered the officers’ claims noting that they report assaults and “can increase or decrease the number of reported incidents as it sees fit.” DOCCS confirmed that the data is collected from correctional facilities. The statistics are included in the ministry’s monthly update posted on its website.