MY VIEW

Don’t HALT solitary confinement

By the NEW YORK STATE CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS AND POLICE BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION
Posted 4/6/22

The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (NYSCOPBA) calls on New York to pause the full implementation of the Humane Alternatives for Long Term (HALT) Solitary …

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MY VIEW

Don’t HALT solitary confinement

Posted

The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (NYSCOPBA) calls on New York to pause the full implementation of the Humane Alternatives for Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. New York State had set a target date of April 1, 2022, for HALT to be fully implemented in all state-run correctional facilities.

NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said, “The state’s assault numbers speak for themselves. Violence in New York’s prisons, specifically against staff, is at a record high despite a significantly smaller incarcerated population. Sadly, over the past calendar year, our members suffered from some of the most vicious, unprovoked attacks our organization has ever seen. Along with the increased violence, the glaring absence of confinement options and the continued understaffing of our facilities, the state cannot in good conscience move forward with the full implementation of HALT. Simply put, the state isn’t ready.”

The union isn’t alone in its concerns. Recently, the lead plaintiff in a landmark 2011 prisoner civil rights lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), Peoples v. Annucci, sent a letter to NYSCOPBA president Michael Powers, expressing his own concerns over current prison conditions and how policies like HALT will “increase prison violence.” The lawsuit resulted in a settlement known as the “NYCLU settlement,” which facilitated an overhaul of segregated confinement policies in New York State and laid the framework for the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. HALT goes beyond the NYCLU settlement in terms of its leniency for violence and discipline of inmate misconduct.

“We believe there is a direct correlation between the reduction of disciplinary procedures within our facilities and the rise in prison violence,” Powers said. “HALT, which hinders the ability to separate vicious predators from the general prison population for more than 15 days, if at all, will only exacerbate the issue. The reality is, in order to achieve a better rehabilitation model, you must first address the violence. It simply cannot be ignored or else you will continue to see chaos and an unhealthy environment for everyone who resides inside a prison facility. We know it and even the lead plaintiff in the NYCLU settlement knows it.”

According to data maintained by DOCCS, assaults on staff reached a record number of 1173 in 2021. So far in 2022, assault numbers are on pace to meet or exceed 2021’s record-breaking total.

DOCCS convened a “Prison Violence Task Force” this year for the purpose of collaborating with labor unions, including NYSCOPBA, on ways to address prison violence through contraband mitigation and changes in policy. None of the security measures discussed pertain to HALT or immediately improving conditions to quell the violence. NYSCOPBA will continue to work with DOCCS to generate ideas and programs that will help reduce violence in facilities; ultimately violence is an issue the Department is tasked with solving.

NYSCOPBA has sponsored legislation that would commission a violence study to be conducted in New York State correctional facilities, and aimed at determining the catalyst for the rise in violent incidents. The legislation includes input from various prison-specific stakeholders and is currently pending in the New York State Legislature.

NYSCOPBA represents over 30,000 New York State employees and retirees from the Security Services Unit.

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