ALBANY (TNS) — Reducing the use of solitary confinement in prisons could save New York and its localities $132 million annually over the next 10 years, according to a report released by the Partnership for Public Good.
The report conducted by the Buffalo Niagara community-based think tank found that passing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT) would save the state and local government $1.3 billion over 10 years, putting a kink in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initial reason for not supporting the legislation.
The bill would limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement to a maximum of 15 consecutive days and create "more humane and effective alternatives," among other initiatives. But even with broad support among legislators, it failed to pass last year after Cuomo claimed it would cost too much to implement.
State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat from the Bronx who chairs the chamber's Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee and the sponsor of the bill, disagreed with Cuomo's projected cost of the legislation, which the governor had pegged at an initial $350 million from the state coupled with an additional $1 billion price tag for municipalities.
Instead, Cuomo came to an agreement last June with the Legislature to implement a series of administrative regulations with the same intent as the HALT Act, but with milder changes than the legislation seeks. Those regulations still aren't in effect, partly because the state's process for promulgating new, non-emergency regulations can take several months.
The bill is among several criminal justice reform measures that proponents have urged the state Legislature to adopt, arguing that long stints in solitary confinement are detrimental to individuals. Indeed, solitary confinement has been linked as a key driver for suicides in prisons.
According to the draft legislation proposed by Sepúlveda, on any given day nearly 3,000 people, disproportionately people of color, in state prisons are in special housing units with thousands more in other forms of isolation. Despite claims that solitary is used in response to the most violent behavior, five out of six disciplinary infractions that put an inmate in solitary were for non-violent conduct, the legislation reads.
Considering the multi-billion-dollar deficit the state faces due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Partnership for Public Good argued in a summary of its 32-page report that the HALT Act should be passed to help save money.
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