COXSACKIE — As construction on the new Greene County jail looms, a proposed state law may change the way prisons and jails deal with solitary confinement.
Legislation called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act was on the Senate floor Wednesday, the last day of the state legislative session. In the Assembly, the bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee in March.
Sponsored by state Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-32, and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-35, the bill would restrict the use of segregated confinement and create alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options.
“Solitary confinement is torture,” Sepulveda said in a statement. “We have seen the horrific effects of long-term confinement on incarcerated people and their families, far too often resulting in suicide or life-long trauma. We must treat everyone with dignity and humanity, including those in our correctional system. The HALT bill will end long-term solitary confinement and create evidence-based rehabilitation programs to holistically support those who need it most. I am grateful to my colleagues and the advocates who are working hard to make sure we pass S1623 and end torture in New York State.”
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said he thinks felt the law is geared more toward prisons, he said.
“There is no design in my jail for solitary confinement,” Groden said. “Every cell is the same.”
If an inmate was violent, they could be left in their cell, Groden said.
“But they still need so many hours of exercise,” he added.
Having special housing and procedures for solitary confinement is nothing new, Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said.
“I’m sure there will be a room or two designated for it in the new jail,” Seeley said.
At the former jail at 80 Bridge St. in Catskill, a special housing unit could be created by closing off one to two cells for an inmate, Seeley said.
“And they are only allowed out at certain times,” he said. “That’s what happens when they can’t behave themselves.”
Solitary was not a common occurrence at the former jail, Seeley said.
“I can’t remember a time when we’ve had to indefinitely confine someone because they can’t behave,” he said.
In the state Commission of Correction’s 2018 Worst Offender’s report, Greene County Jail was listed among the top five worst facilities in the state.
The majority of the commission’s evaluation for Greene County included citations for improper policies and procedures.
After site visits in March and April 2016, the facility was found to have been locking male inmates in their cells for a majority of the day as a matter of routine practice, according to the report.
“Such inmates did not pose a threat to the safety and security of the facility, staff, or other inmates, and the facility could not justify such lock-ins,” according to the report.
Correspondence from the commission to Seeley and Greene County Attorney Ed Kaplan in November 2016 ordered the jail to discontinue this practice and amend its policies and procedures.
The jail discontinued the lock-ins, according to the report.
Construction on the new 48-bed facility, which will be built off Route 9W in Coxsackie, is set to begin late next week, Groden said.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from which the county is borrowing $39 million for the project, has not signed off on the construction contracts, the project will continue.
“We have the option to pursue a general obligation bond instead,” Groden said, adding that the rates may end up being less than the 3.5% interest rate set by the USDA.
Congressman Antonio Delgado did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the use of USDA funding for the jail.
A switch in financing would not require board action because the Legislature authorized the funding back in September, Groden said.