Read the full piece in New York Focus
This article is part of a series of investigations into New York’s implementation of solitary confinement reforms.
The New York state prison agency has repeatedly ignored formal scrutiny of its illegal implementation of a landmark reform law, likely violating more state laws in the process, New York Focus has learned.
The scrutiny relates to the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which went into effect across the state at the end of March. The law places strict limits on how prisons and jails can use solitary confinement: whom they can put there, why they can send them there, and how long they can keep them there. But, as New York Focus has reported, the prison department has adopted temporary internal policies that violate several foundational aspects of the law, holding thousands of people in unlawful conditions as a result.
Public officials and advocates have called out the prison system’s illegal policies. In June, 56 state legislators signed onto comments expressing “grave concerns” about the regulations and pointing out half a dozen areas where they violated HALT. State law requires the prison department to publish responses to those comments. Instead it’s ignored them — renewing the temporary policies three times without addressing the concerns.
“The way that they have gone about this rulemaking reflects a desire to avoid being accountable to the public,” said Antony Gemmell, director of detention litigation at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
On Friday, the NYCLU sent a letter to the prison department calling out its “ongoing failure, in violation of state law,” to address public comments. The letter demanded that the agency come up with a timeline to address the scrutiny by December 9.
Members of the public can sue an agency if it doesn’t follow the legal rulemaking processes.
The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which runs the state prison system, did not respond to questions before press time.