(WETM) — The New York State Corrections Officer and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) is calling on New York legislators to repeal the state’s HALT Act.
The law limits the use of segregated confinement known as Segregated Housing Units (SHU’s) to a 15 day stay, something that NYSCOPBA said puts staff and inmates at a higher risk. According to NYSCOPBA, there has been a 44% rise in assaults on staff, and a 46% rise in assaults on other inmates since the law went into effect on April 1st.
According to NYSCOPBA’s President Michael Powers, the HALT Solitary Confinement Act addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. “Solitary confinement is a true misnomer. Those conditions do not exist in any penal system from the east coast to the west coast… These aren’t dark, dank holes in basements. All that TV jargon doesn’t exist in these systems.”
Powers said that SHU inmates actually get more services than the general inmate population, and the cells in segregated housing units are the same as regular cells, with the only difference being more restricted movement within the facility. With the 15 day limit being imposed on inmates, it leaves the general population more vulnerable to these more violent offenders, Powers stated. “What they tried to do was regulate the time for removal for an egregious criminal act inside a facility, with no disciplinary consequence.”
HALT does provide more directives for staff training opportunities and other benefits for staff and inmates alike. Powers is not opposed to creating more resources or programs that help in the rehabilitation effort. The problem, he said, is that the people that are causing these violent incidents are part of a criminal element. “Until we can get to the root of what’s driving that violence, we won’t have any answers, but we want to be a part of that process.”
Despite the best intentions by policymakers, violence is on the rise inside New York’s correctional facilities. Powers said that the public vision of what prison looks like is not correct, and that has lead to this law. “This perception that everything looks like The Shawshank Redemption, that doesn’t exist in our prison systems, but you know what? Our officers are getting their heads kicked in, they are bleeding, and that blood is on this legislature’s hands.”
NYSCOPBA has drafted and endorsed legislation of their own to try and ameliorate these issues in the ways that they think are best, but Powers said it has all fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the numbers of injured inmates and officers are rising steadily.
We had asked for the legislature to conduct a violence study inside the correctional facilities. They’ve chosen not to pass that, as our members are being taken out on stretchers and having their lives put together with stitches, and broken bones, and significant injuries. Just one injury, one significant assault, or a death in any way is one too many.Michael Powers – President, NYSCOPBA
Powers is hopeful that legislators will see the detrimental effects the law has created, and wants to hash things out with lawmakers and come to an agreed upon team effort. He also likened a prison population to a “normal” community, with its own unique needs and individuals. Until these needs are appropriately addressed, officers will likely continue to face violence in their everyday lives.