Tompkins County has taken a stand on solitary confinement. At the March 17 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, elected representatives unanimously voted to pass a resolution in support of a statewide bill limiting the use of solitary confinement in New York’s prisons and jails.

Before the resolution came before the full legislature, it passed through the county’s Budget, Public Safety, and Workforce Diversity and Inclusion committees.

Legislator Jim Dennis (D-6th), who chairs the Budget Committee, said, “A number of people in the community have been proposing this and working on this resolution, we’ve had people here before the legislature and my sense of it all from listening to all of those people is it’s the time to do this. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing and this is one of those occasions where you have to do the right thing and pass this resolution and they need to do that at the state level also.”

Legislator Jim Dennis
Legislator Jim Dennis (Photo by Keri Blakinger)

The local resolution urges the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) in the lower house (A.4401) and by Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) in the upper house (S2659).

Legislator Carol Chock (D-3rd) said, “I absolutely support this.” She said that she had looked into the matter further to see if there were any stronger bills to support and determined that there had been another bill addressing solitary confinement, but that it was not current.

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-6th) said, “It doesn’t really state here what we do with people in super-max security facilities. Those people are basically in solitary all the time and this isn’t meant to address that and that’s why I’m okay voting for that.”

Although the state bill does have provisions for inmates who meet specific criteria to be excluded, the majority of inmates – in both county jails and state prisons – would be limited to no more than 15 days in solitary confinement. After that point, the facility would need to provide at least six hours of out-of-cell programming for rehabilitative and therapeutic purposes.

The bill also bans special populations from isolated confinement, including inmates under 21, inmates over 55, inmates with physical and mental disabilities, inmates who are pregnant, and LGBTI inmates.

Currently, there are more than 4,000 inmates in solitary confinement in New York State and more than 80,000 nationwide.

This article was originally published on Ithaca.com.

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