St. Lawrence County’s assemblyman pushing to repeal limit of solitary confinement in state prisons
OGDENSBURG — Republican state officials are joining with corrections union officials in a renewed call to repeal a New York State law that limits the use of solitary confinement.
Proponents of the repeal argue that the Humane Alternatives for Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act has made prisons dangerous for corrections officers.Assemblyman Scott Gray (R-Watertown) joined his Assembly Republican colleagues and NYSCOPBA President Mike Powers to call for its repeal.
This renewed call comes as the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) numbers showed a substantial increase in assaults within prisons during 2022.
"Violence within our prisons is on the rise. This is an unfortunate truth that has been confirmed by many correctional officers with whom I have discussed the issue,” Gray said in a prepared statement.
“There is no doubt that poor policy making out of Albany has contributed to this troubling rise in violence. Prison closures, the HALT Act and the refusal to use a secure vendor program have all contributed to the deterioration of prison environments. Not only is inmate-on-staff violence up, but inmate-on-inmate violence has also increased. I believe this is in large part due to the inability of correctional officers to separate even the most violent inmates from the rest of the prison population.”
Last year DOCCS convened a “Prison Violence Task Force” for the purpose of collaborating with labor unions, including NYSCOPBA, on ways to address prison violence through contraband mitigation and changes in policy.
However, none of the security measures discussed pertained to HALT or immediately improving conditions to quell the growing violence, according to union officials.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision acknowledged the rise in severity of attacks in November 2021, releasing a memo to the incarcerated population describing the violence as “savagery,” union officials said in the past.
At the time NYSCOPBA leaders said the union would work with DOCCS to generate ideas and programs “that will help reduce violence in facilities, ultimately violence is an issue the Department is tasked with solving.”
Gray said the problem could be fixed easily by repealing the HALT act.
“We can reverse the uptick in violence by immediately voting on A.10593 of 2022, which would repeal the HALT Act. The governor often says she looks at the data when making decisions—the data here is clear. Prisons are becoming more dangerous, and we must act to protect the inmates, correctional officers, support staff and all who work at these facilities to help keep our communities safe,” Gray in his statement.
The union supported Gray’s call, which piggy backed on repeal efforts pushed by his predecessor Mark Walczyk who now serves as a New York State Senator.
"The legislative majorities in Albany are complicit in what is happening within our prison walls. We have called for the repeal of HALT since it was passed into law, because we knew the danger it would present to our correctional officers. I hope members on both sides of the aisle join Assemblyman Gray to address the problem and immediately vote to repeal the HALT Act,” NYSCOPBA President Mike Powers, who also serves as an Ogdensburg City Councilor, said.