Advocates push state lawmakers to end solitary confinement

ALBANY, New York — Advocates prodded New York lawmakers Tuesday to green-light a proposal that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in prisons.

Opponents of solitary confinement liken the practice to torture and say isolation can leave lifelong psychological scars. They urged the legislation’s passage before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn later this week.

Prisoners would not be placed in isolation for more than 15 consecutive days under the legislation. It also stipulates officials cannot impose “restricted diets” as punishment.

Dozens of people gathered at the New York Capitol as speakers described trauma that stemmed from solitary confinement.

Martin Gromulat, an attorney and mental health advocate, told the crowd he was put in solitary confinement after authorities picked him up during a manic episode. Solitary confinement, he said, is a “matter of life and death.”

“Sick people don’t belong in a jail,” he said. “They certainly don’t belong in solitary confinement.”

One thousand mental health professionals and advocates from around New York have signed on to a proposal to restrict the practice.

Those signing on to the letter to state leaders include social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals.

The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote. Advocates say they worry it may not pass.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he agrees changes are needed to ensure solitary confinement is humane but that he fears the bill may require the construction of new prisons.

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