A prison policy labeled by many as "torture," "inhumane," and "counterproductive" is ending in New York state. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the HALT Act, a measure that bars the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days in a row in the state's prisons and jails, reports Spectrum News. The law, which will go into effect sometime in 2022, also prohibits inmates in vulnerable populations—including those 21 and under, inmates 55 and older, those with a disability, and inmates who are pregnant or who have newborns up to 8 weeks old—from being placed in solitary. The New York Times frames it as a "far-reaching move that will fundamentally change life behind bars," and one that's been a long time coming for criminal justice advocates, who've been pushing for the law for the past decade. Other states across the US have enacted similar restrictions on the use of solitary confinement.
Among concerns cited are the mental health effects of isolation for weeks on end, with studies showing a tie to increased risk for self-harm, suicide, and worsened mental health. The effects can also last long beyond one's prison stay. "It didn't take me long to start seeing things that weren't in my cell, to start having a conversation with nobody there," Victor Pate, an anti-solitary advocate who spent more than two years in isolation during 15 years or so of incarceration, tells the Times. "You never get over that. I'm not well by a long shot." There's also the racial disparity: Most prisoners who end up in "the hole" are Black or Latino—80% in New York, per the Times, although those inmates make up only 70% of the prison population overall. Corrections officials, meanwhile, want to keep the option of solitary confinement open, arguing that without it, inmates will be harder to discipline, meaning jails and prisons wouldn't be as safe. Cuomo has signaled he may tweak the bill before it goes into effect. (Read more solitary confinement stories.)