Isolation for more than 15 consecutive days in prisons and jails will be barred starting March 2022
WINDSOR TERRACE — In a move being hailed as fundamental criminal justice reform by Catholic leaders, this Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that will end the long-term use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails.
Dennis Poust, interim executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, issued a statement on April 1, applauding the governor.
“Criminal justice reform organizations, including the Catholic Conference, have fought for years for fundamental reform and alternatives to long-term incarceration,” he said. “With this law, that goal has finally been achieved.”
Under the new law, which is expected to take effect in March 2022, solitary confinement in prisons and jails will be limited to 15 days and banned altogether for people who are in vulnerable populations, including minors, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
Other provisions in the law focus on mental health — the legislation will provide individuals with therapeutic and trauma-informed programming as a form of behavioral rehabilitation. Poust also addressed the mental health effects of long-term confinement.
“The extreme isolation only serves to exacerbate the root causes that lead to prison disciplinary issues to begin with,” Poust said, “such as anger, anti-social behavior, or mental illness, putting public safety at further risk when incarcerated individuals are released back into society, sometimes directly from a solitary confinement cell.”
The announcement comes after recent prison reform initiatives were taken up by the Biden administration. In late January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that the U.S. Department of Justice will not renew contracts with private prisons. The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees welcomed the president’s actions to address racial equity in housing and private prisons’ use by the federal government.
Gov. Cuomo called the prison system’s confinement an “inhumane punishment” that leads to “emotional and physical trauma that can last for years” in an April 1 statement.
“By signing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act into law, we are reforming New York’s criminal justice system by helping ensure the effective implementation of proven, humane corrections policies,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I applaud the bill sponsors and look forward to continuing our work to reform the era of mass incarceration and usher in a safer, more just Empire State.”