Posted on April 10, 2018
How a proposal dies: An Albany story
"He 'began to deteriorate' after his first week in solitary. He hallucinated seeing birds flying, squirrels walking around, people he knew in his past life." https://t.co/o8A7hEZKAL
— Mark Chiusano (@mjchiusano) April 10, 2018
This Albany story begins with the birth of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, launched in 2012. That was before the public was talking much about solitary: the practice that keeps people behind bars further sequestered alone in bathroom-sized cells for various reasons, often for all but an hour or so a day.
Did it change because public opinion on the issue has shifted, leaving New York State politics to play catch-up? Activists spent years holding forums, lobbying politicians, even carting model solitary cells around the state so New Yorkers could feel the isolation of solitary — an experience so intense that some civilians cried and lasted mere seconds. This year, the HALT Act [Humane Alternatives to Long-Term solitary confinement] was included in the State Assembly’s budget proposal. And Cuomo’s budget plan included some elements of solitary reform as well.
In recent years, if you want something big to get done in Albany you better hope it’s included in budget negotiations. Cuomo and leaders of both legislative chambers use the threat of a March 31 “deadline” to get consensus on big-ticket items (it looks good politically to avoid a government shutdown). Previous issues that became law during the budget include a minimum wage increase, paid family leave, and treating many 16- and 17-year olds in the criminal justice system as juveniles, not adults.
That all-important budget period just wrapped up. Spoiler alert: the campaign against solitary confinement didn’t make it. The legislation landed on the scrap heap along with other priorities even more robustly touted by the governor and Assembly, such as bail and speedy trial reform or big early voting measures. All lost without explanation during closed-door negotiations with legislative leaders in recent weeks.