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Faith leaders, activists push for curbs on NY solitary confinement

Rev. Emily McNeill joined religious leaders protesting solitary confinement in Albany.

Faith groups staged a protest and vigil this week at the state capital, calling for sharp new restrictions on the use of solitary confinement. New York has already reduced the number of special housing units in state prisons, but some lawmakers, activists and religious leaders say they haven’t gone far enough.

Johnny Perez served 13 years in state prisons, including time at Clinton Correctional in Dannemora and Upstate, where he spent years in isolation cells known as special housing units. 

"Solitary confinement is literally a second-by-second attack on your soul," Perez said. "I found myself contemplating suicide."

Perez now works as a prison reform activist for a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. He joined faith leaders calling for passage of what is known as the HALT act, which would limit the number of days inmates could spend in solitary and ban solitary altogether for younger offenders.

"We have all of the votes we need, and the only thing stalling the legislation from moving forward is politics," Perez said. "So we brought a number of faith leaders to hold our legislators morally accountable."

Many corrections officers argue that special housing units are needed to maintain order and safety. The protest against the use of solitary comes as Democrats in Albany pursue an aggressive criminal reform agenda. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed through a budget deal that will close three state prisons. His administration has not said which correctional facilities will shut down.

Credit New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
This map shows prisons across New York State.

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