Statement from Vera Supporting the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act

New York has a unique opportunity to pass legislation that will dramatically limit the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. For a decade, the Vera Institute of Justice has worked with 16 jurisdictions to limit the use of solitary, also known as segregated confinement, and develop effective alternatives that promote well-being and safety. We have seen the success of our corrections partners in achieving this goal and we believe that we can ultimately eliminate the use of solitary confinement entirely.

On any given day in the U.S., tens of thousands of people are held for 23 hours in an 8 by 12 foot cell with little to no human contact or activity, sometimes for months, years, or even decades. Our work with and research in jails and prisons across the country tells us that solitary confinement is one of the most extreme examples of the damage of mass incarceration. It is harmful to incarcerated people, as well as staff, and counterproductive to safety and dignity in our facilities. The effects of solitary confinement go beyond the jail and prison walls, negatively impacting a person’s ability to prepare for life on the outside upon release.

It is no longer a question of if the practice of solitary confinement should be reformed, but how. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the “Mandela Rules,” has recognized solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as a human rights violation. We are pleased that New York’s legislation limits stays in solitary to no more than 15 days and requires that people have the opportunity to participate in programming outside their cells even during that time. Under the bill, after no more than 15 days, people would return to general population or transfer to a Residential Rehabilitation Unit, where they would receive trauma-informed care and therapy if they are not ready to reintegrate into general population.

Vera has worked in New York, our own backyard, for almost six decades to improve the systems New Yorkers rely upon for safety and justice. In that time, we have never seen a moment as full of potential for justice reform as this one. Many steps have already been taken to reduce and reform the use of solitary. New York City, which once held over 1,000 people in solitary at any given time, now has only a fraction of that number in segregated housing. The Department of Correction has developed models of alternative housing to solitary confinement that should be expanded, improved upon, and replicated statewide.

Yet, from our work with jurisdictions across the country on solitary confinement, we know that legislation and policy alone will not guarantee success. Implementation of reforms to solitary confinement should include sufficient resources, planning, communication, training, and support. This will ensure reforms are implemented successfully and result in safer environments that promote wellness and human dignity for the people who live and work there.

New York has already passed many important criminal justice reforms this legislative session. We urge them to consider passing one more—the HALT Solitary Confinement Act—that would make New York a leader in reducing and potentially even ending the use of solitary.

Related