- Hector Figueroa, the president of 32BJ SEIU, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Thursday.
- A report published by New York Communities for Change highlighted how Citibike has systematically ignored low-income neighborhoods in its rollout since 2013.
- Landlords can’t actually let their buildings fall into disrepair, as many have threatened to do as a result of the stronger rent laws that were passed in June.
- NY1 covered the growing alliance between NYCDSA and the Working Families Party that is reshaping New York City electoral politics.
- Gov. Cuomo, in response to a question suggesting that he had “backed the wrong horse” in the Queens DA race, asserted “I am the Left.”
- The full recount of votes cast in the Queens District Attorney race officially starts today. Over 150 attorneys are signed up to provide pro bono support in the ballot review process for Tiffany Cabán’s campaign.
- State Senator Gustavo Rivera (District 33, The Bronx) has decided not to run for José Serrano’s soon-to-be-vacant congressional seat, and cited his interest in passing more progressive legislation in Albany as a cause in an op-ed.
- City Comptroller Scott Stringer has been using his position to lay the groundwork for a 2021 mayoral run.
In-Depth: Update on the Fight to Limit Solitary Confinement
New York’s solitary confinement practices have come under heightened scrutiny after the recent passing of Layleen Polanco, a 27 year-old Afro-Latina trans woman, who was being held in isolated confinement on Rikers Island at the time of her death last month.
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) currently relies on punitive and purportedly “administrative” or “protective” use of solitary confinement, the isolation of individuals for 22-24 hours a day in an elevator-sized cell. NYS uses solitary at a rate that is higher than the national average, with no set limit on the length people can be held in confinement. Some individuals have been in “administrative segregation” units for decades with little chance of getting out, absent any substantive reform measures.
NYC’s The Thorn published a summary of solitary confinement practices in New York in March of 2018.
Since then, activists with the HALT Solitary Campaign and other faith-based, mental health, and criminal justice reform groups throughout NYS have worked to successfully gain majority Senate and Assembly support for the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Solitary Confinement (HALT) Act (Act A.2500 / S.1623). The bill would create rehabilitative alternatives to isolated confinement, prohibit the use of solitary confinement beyond 15 days, and limit the use of solitary for special populations, including any person, “21 years or younger; 55 years or older; With a physical, mental, or medical disability; Who is pregnant; or Who is a new mother or caring for a child while inside.” A summary of the bill can be found here.
The bill passed the State Assembly for the first time in 2018 by a vote of 99 to 45. As of June 14, 34 New York State Senators from Long Island to Upstate New York were officially co-sponsoring the HALT Act– a clear majority – with additional Senators who committed to vote for the bill. 79 New York State Assembly Members were also official co-sponsors of HALT – another clear majority.
Demanding that the bill be brought to the floor, 40 advocates and supporters of the bill across the state, including some who have formerly been held in isolation, went on hunger strike.
Despite the majority support for the HALT act, the bill was not brought to a vote. On June 20th, the 8th day of the hunger strike, members of the HALT Solitary Campaign learned that legislative leaders instead agreed to a backroom deal with Governor Cuomo who agreed to restrict solitary practices in state prisons, but prevent the passage of HALT this year. On a radio interview two days earlier, Cuomo said that the proposed reforms would cost more than $350 million for the state and over $1 billion for municipalities, stating the cities and municipalities would have to “build a new type of jail.” Advocates and lawmakers contested this calculation and statement and released a fact sheet detailing their own estimation of the costs and savings of the HALT bill. In a statement, the HALT Solitary Campaign wrote, “HALT would not require any new prisons or jails. 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.” In addition, because the bill reduces the population that can be sent to solitary in the first place, it is likely that entire facilities currently dedicated to solitary confinement cells could be closed and costs would be reduced.
As of now, Governor Cuomo and the Department of Corrections and community supervision have not released the text of the new solitary confinement regulations. There is therefore no knowledge of the specific reforms, the details of the implementation, or the timeline for the changes. For instance, while Cuomo stated that his administrative reforms will include a cap of 30 days in confinement, it does not say when the goal for implementing this cap is. Based on Cuomo’s budget proposal from this year, such a limitation would likely not be put in place for at least three years. In addition, Cuomo’s proposed reforms have no limitations on how frequently solitary can be used on an individual. Under this agreement, unlike in the reforms set forward under the HALT bill, an individual could be returned to solitary for a new offense immediately after they are released for a prior offense. This process can go on ad infinitum, effectively undermining a substantive limit to the use of isolated confinement. Further, the reforms in Cuomo’s compromise pertain only to state prisons. City and county jails would not be affected. As a result, people in jails throughout the state who have not been convicted of crimes will continue to be tortured as they are now.
Order Thorn Totes Online!
In honor of our 2 year anniversary and as a way to keep the lights on, we’ve created limited edition Thorn tote bags! You can now order one online and all money will go towards the Thorn.