The union representing prison guards across New York State is asking for a delay in implementing a new law that will limit the amount of time prisoners can be held in solitary confinement.

The Humane Alternatives of Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year but will take full effect on April 1, New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers said.

Among the new restrictions are limits on the number of consecutive days (15) that an inmate can be held in solitary confinement. Additionally, there certain prisoners who are no longer allowed to placed in solitary based on age or physical limitations:

  • Individuals age 21 or younger,
  • Individuals age 55 and over,
  • Individuals with a disability,
  • And individuals who are pregnant, up to eight weeks postpartum, or caring for children in a facility.

NYSCOPBA's argument essentially boils down to this: If you take away a punishment for inmate misbehavior, you're lose a deterrent to that behavior - so the behavior will either continue or get worse.

"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 the prison facility. We know it and even the lead plaintiff in the NYCLU settlement know it."

Powers claims he received a letter from the lead plaintiff in the landmark case against NYSCOPBA that dates back to 2011. Powers says that case, known as the 'NYCLU Settlement' laid the framework for the HALT legislation. However, he says he recently received a letter from the plaintiff in that same case who acknowledges that policies like HALT will lead to increased violence.

Union leaders also point to an alarming jump in assaults on correctional officers. After rising more than 120% over the last decade, 2021 saw a record number (1,173) of such attacks on guards. Based on data so far in 2022, Powers said the assaults are on pace meet or exceed that record violence.

Meanwhile, NYSCOPBA has brought a lawsuit against the state regarding the new policy. It is still pending in court.

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