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Advocates, state legislators call to limit solitary confinement

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Advocate Darlene McDay holds up photos of her late son Dante Taylor who died in solitary confinement.

On the first day of the New York state legislative session, advocates and some legislators called for limits on solitary confinement in state prisons.

They are pushing for the passage of HALT, or the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Solitary Confinement Act.

“The use of solitary confinement in New York state’s prisons is a violation of human rights,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson, one of about 10 state legislators who took part in a news conference on Wednesday. 

If passed, the HALT Act would ban solitary confinement for pregnant women and new mothers. It also would prohibit the practice for people with disabilities, and those over 55 and under 21. 

Under the proposed legislation, solitary confinement would be limited to no more than 15 consecutive days and include separate rehabilitative programming and therapies.

“These are humans we’re talking about,” said advocate Melania Brown, who said that her sister died in solitary confinement. “Not even an animal deserves to be put in a cage for that amount of hours.”

Advocate Sammie Werkheiser was formerly incarcerated. She said that about seven years ago, she was put in solitary confinement as a protective measure after a guard overheard another inmate threaten her. She was pregnant and gave birth to twins at five months. Her daughter did not survive.

“Instead of having her arms around me this Christmas, I have her ashes around my neck,” Werkhaiser said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is a general assignment reporter/producer for WXXI News with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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