Chris Gelardi


Prison Department Writes Its Way Out of Following Solitary Confinement Law — Again

Read the full piece in New York Focus

Fifty-two state legislators sent a letter to New York’s prison department last week lambasting the agency for re-enacting regulations that flout solitary confinement law.

Citing a multi-part New York Focus investigation, the lawmakers pointed to nearly a year’s worth of routine violations of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which placed strict limits on carceral isolation. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released its latest set of regulations in December, re-enshrining DOCCS’s longstanding disregard of the law’s foundational tenets.

“We write with ongoing grave concerns that DOCCS not only continues to violate HALT but now is failing to remedy many deficiencies in its previous regulations that we and others pointed out and that are part of the reason these violations continue to occur,” the lawmakers wrote.

The legislators further condemned the prison department for allowing staff to rescind incarcerated people’s visitation privileges as punishment for any infraction of prison rules. Previously, they could only revoke visitation over drug- or visitation-related offenses.

The prison regulations also seek to set in stone a ban on packages from loved ones. The policy, first reported by New York Focus, has prompted protests by families and vows from legislators to overturn it.

“The vast restrictions on visits and packages are abusive for incarcerated people and their children and other family members,” the letter states. “They will also likely lead to increased tension, increased violence, increased drug use, increased suicide, and worsened safety for incarcerated people and staff.”

In response to a request for comment, a DOCCS spokesperson only said that the department “will review and respond to all comments through the state’s regulatory process at the appropriate time.” Its latest response to public comments ignored some of lawmakers’ main concerns. It also included a claim that DOCCS scrapped a draconian mental health stipulation — but the language remains in the revised rules.

“DOCCS seems to think it can make up its own rules,” Senator Julia Salazar, a lead sponsor of HALT, said in a statement. “It can’t. It must follow the law.”

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