ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – A new law in New York is drawing criticism from sheriff’s deputies at the Monroe County Jail.
The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT Act, took effect on April 1. The legislation limits, among other things, the use of solitary confinement for all prisoners to 15 days.
However, those who work inside the prison fear that the law will put inmates and staff at risk.
“The HALT Act talks a lot about segregation and what you can and can’t do, and it gives a very, very general definition of segregation,” said Monroe County Jail operations major James McGowan. . “It doesn’t matter where the person is, how big the cell is, how nice they are, whether they want to be there or not…if you’re in a cell and haven’t been out for at least seven hours a day, you are considered to be in solitary confinement”.
News 8 spoke with Maj. McGowan about how often inmates are placed in solitary confinement at Monroe County Jail and why. McGowan said they usually have a handful of individuals confined each day for security reasons.
“Our mission statement is the safety and security of all staff, all inmates, all civilians, all volunteers here,” McGowan said. “So if an inmate is acting in a way that’s not conducive to that and is a danger to themselves or others, we need to put them somewhere else so they don’t hurt other people. .”
To show when deputies would confine an inmate, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office posted tweets (see below) with videos of inmates attacking MPs over the past few years.
It’s incidents like these that McGowan fears will become more common under the new law.
“If you have a thing where after 20 days out of a 60 day period, no matter what, you’re still punching somebody in the face, every time you walk into a cell, there should be a possibility to extend that based on your behavior because it keeps the rest of the prison population safe, it keeps the staff safe,” McGowan said. “It also protects the individual themselves who strikes.
While McGowan said the MCSO wants to do things in the least restrictive way possible, he thinks staff should be able to confine inmates who pose a threat until that threat subsides. Under the new law, he says they won’t be able to make that decision on their own.
“It doesn’t matter how you acted just before you got to jail. It doesn’t matter how you behaved the last time you were in jail, even if it was two weeks ago, even if what you just did on the street was so egregious that we consider it dangerous and a risk , you are not allowed to base the decision to place someone in solitary confinement on that behavior,” McGowan said.
McGowan also said the new law requires more staff, money and time because more inmates have to be out of their cells and some can’t be around each other, so they have to get creative with new ones. space.
However, there are also many supporters of the HALT Act, such as Senator Jeremey Cooney.
Cooney says solitary confinement is inhumane and the law does not remove solitary confinement, it simply limits it.
“We recognize that people have done wrong, they have to pay and do their time for the act they did, but this is not a torture chamber,” Senator Cooney said. “This is an opportunity to make sure people get the services they need, so they can properly rehabilitate and hopefully reintegrate safely into society and reunite with their families.”
Senator Cooney said the purpose of the law is to go beyond punishment to assistance and rehabilitation. He said this law would go a long way to better support prisoners.
“One of the things I really like about the legislation is that it requires ‘out-of-cell time’, but not just for recreation, for treatment-related programs,” Cooney said. “So if someone is struggling with addiction or struggling with mental health issues, it gives those people the opportunity to improve themselves and get the support they need, so that they can come out of solitary confinement productively and hopefully be more productive citizens once released.
However, Cooney also said he had many discussions with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and understood the deputies’ safety concerns.
“I recognize and emphasize the fact that in the legislation we have specifically put into language, that if an incarcerated person harms themselves or another person, that incarcerated person could be removed from the general population for 15 years. days, or even beyond that up to a year, if they created a danger to themselves or someone else,” Cooney said.
“I think it’s a very important factor that we don’t put our hands behind the backs of all the sheriff’s deputies that are in the Monroe County Jail. They still have the ability to separate populations based on public safety.
In addition to capping the time spent in solitary confinement, the HALT law also prohibits the segregation of inmates under 21 and over 55, disabled, chronically mentally ill or pregnant inmates.
Legislation also requires prison staff to receive training, but Maj. McGowan said he has not received any state programs.
The HALT Act was signed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2021.
You can read the legislation in full by clicking here.