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Governor signs bill ending long-term solitary confinement

The wall of Clinton Correctional Facility looms over the community of Dannemora in June 2015. (Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)

ALBANY (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation to end long-term solitary confinement in state prisons and jails, he announced Thursday.

Under the new law, prisons and jails will not be allowed to hold inmates in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days. Solitary confinement will be banned entirely for several categories of prisoners including minors, people over 55, pregnant inmates and those with disabilities.

“Generations of incarcerated men and women have been subjected to inhumane punishment in segregated confinement with little to no human interaction for extended periods of time and many experience emotional and physical trauma that can last for years,” Cuomo said in a news release Thursday after signing the bill late the day before.

He added, “I applaud the bill sponsors and look forward to continuing our work to reform the era of mass incarceration and usher in a safer, more just Empire State.”

State Sen. Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the new law “will put an end to the use of long-term solitary confinement in our state, a practice that has perpetuated violence and caused irreparable harm.”

The legislation, which will take effect in one year, represents a victory for prison reform advocates who say prolonged isolation behind bars is torture.

“Today marks an important victory in the struggle for racial justice and human rights, Jerome Wright, an organizer with the #HALTsolitary Campaign, said in a statement Thursday. “Solitary confinement is torture. It causes immense suffering and destroys people’s minds, bodies, and souls. It should have no place in New York State or the rest of this country or world.”

A bill to halt solitary confinement in New York failed to pass in 2019 in part because of opposition from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which argued that ending the practice would make prisons less safe. A message seeking comment was left with a spokesperson for the union Thursday.

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