Politics

Solitary confinement reforms unlikely for end of session

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo isn’t embracing legislative efforts to drastically curtail the use of solitary confinement in New York prisons.

The governor said in a radio interview Tuesday that the legislation represents a costly “unfunded mandate” because compliance would require the construction of new prisons. He estimated a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and local municipalities to build facilities that comply with the legislation.

Cuomo is supportive of the legislation’s restrictions on time in solitary confinement, saying a more “humane” practice is needed. The proposal would also restrict circumstances when solitary can be used and improve the conditions in solitary.

The governor’s interpretation of the bill’s costs were swiftly dismissed by advocates pushing the bill, who say it wouldn’t require new prisons.

“The alternative units that the Governor is referencing in his statement would be limited to a small population of people who could be housed in existing facilities, but with a greater amount of time out-of-cell, meaningful programs, and interaction with other people,” the #HALTsolitary Confinement campaign said in a statement.

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said Tuesday that a deal on the legislation is still possible.

“We’re in threeway discussion on solitary confinement and I hope we can get to a place where all parties are happy,” Heastie told reporters.

Over the weekend the union representing New York’s correctional officers urged state lawmakers to pump the brakes on efforts to change the use of solitary confinement.

A memorandum from NYSCOPBA maintains that special housing units (the official name for the confinement) help protect correctional officers, individual inmates and the general population of a prison. They say that restricting this option would create a “powder keg” situation in prisons.


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