Today, for the 15th consecutive month, advocates will unite across the state of New York to raise their voices in solidarity and demand an end to the practice of solitary confinement. Organized by the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), these monthly rallies bring together a varied cross-section of the advocacy world – from long standing, staunch opponents of solitary confinement, to concerned community members, just beginning to understand the pernicious effects of long-term isolated confinement, to those affected most by solitary confinement – formerly incarcerated persons and family members of currently incarcerated people.
CAIC’s actions typically incorporate speeches, chants, songs, narratives from people currently in solitary, use of a virtual reality solitary experience, phone banking to the Governor or particular legislators, distributing information, and gathering petition signatures. The location of the monthly events vary month to month – this month CAIC is hosting four separate events in Upper Manhattan, Rochester, Long Island, and Ithaca, respectively. Despite the change in locale, the goals remain the same: raising awareness about the horrors of solitary confinement and garnering support for a pivotal piece of legislation - the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, A. 4401 / S. 2659.
The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act was first introduced in January 2014 by Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry and State Senator Bill Perkins. It is a seminal piece of legislation; aimed at not only restricting the use of solitary confinement, but at creating alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options. The recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the “Mandela Rules,” are reflected in the bill, which would limit the maximum time spent in isolation to 15 consecutive days, and a maximum of 20 days over any 60-day period. Other important provisions of the bill call for a complete prohibition on the use of solitary confinement for specific groups of vulnerable people - those aged 21 or younger; aged 55 or older; those with disabilities, including those with mental illness; pregnant women; and members of the LGBTI community.
Over the past 3 years, the HALT Act has gained substantial legislative support. Currently, 79 legislators are official public co-sponsors of HALT (62 in the Assembly and 17 in the Senate). CAIC, along with a litany of advocacy groups and faith communities throughout NY state, work through collective action and direct advocacy to support passage of the bill into law. If passed, HALT will seriously limit the use of solitary confinement in the state and transform the State’s approach to the treatment of incarcerated people towards more humane policy and practice. November’s election is especially pivotal because all of the seats in both the state senate and the state assembly are up for election.
Past Monthly Actions have attracted the attention of policy-makers and the press. Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) attended the June 23rd rally, held in Athens Square Park, which is close to Rikers Island. Participants in the event honored the life of Kalief Browder, who spent almost two years in solitary confinement on Rikers after being accused of stealing a backpack. The horrors of Rikers caused Mr. Browder to attempt suicide as an incarcerated youth. The traumatic aftermath led him to take his own life last June – two years after being released. It was a day of remembrance and action. Senator Gianaris, expressed his support for CAIC’s proven track record of raising awareness “of the horrors of solitary confinement.” The Senator further noted that the “excessive use of solitary is counterproductive.”
Gathering leaders and citizens together to remember those in solitary, those who have survived solitary and those who have been forever impacted by solitary, and to support an end to solitary as we know it, such as through the HALT Act, is a goal for every action CAIC holds on the 23rd.
All residents of NY are encouraged to write their local elected officials, urging them to support the HALT Act. CAIC has drafted a model letter you can use when writing your call to action. You can use this link to find your State Assembly Member and State Senator. Additionally, advocates across the country can sign CAIC’s Change.org petition to Governor Cuomo, calling for an end to the torture of solitary confinement.