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Advocates push for reforms to solitary confinement

Thomas O'Neil-White

Criminal justice reform continues to be a hot-button topic in the state. On the heels of state reforms regarding bail and discovery laws, advocates are urging lawmakers to fundamentally change the way solitary confinement is conducted in jails and prisons.

For over seven years Jerome Wright sat in a 6 by 9 foot cell, cut off from the rest of the world, even cut off from the prison he was housed in.

“It’s like taking somebody and locking them up,” he said. “And then putting them in the bathroom and saying on top of you being restricted from going anywhere else, you have to stay in this bathroom.”

As part of a panel discussion on solitary confinement at the Crucial Community Center Tuesday, Wright says his experience has led him to become an organizer for the WNY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Wright maintains the system for putting and keeping people in solitary is arbitrary and the physical and mental suffering leaves prisoners worse off than when they were first confined.

He believes the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (H.A.L.T.) Solitary Confinement Act, which currently sits in limbo in the State Legislature, will go a long way to improve a practice long thought of as torturous and antiquated by its detractors.

“One of the main tenants of HALT is not just getting people less time and getting them programs,” he said. “But also holding people accountable who put you in there, and monitoring what is going on so that people are getting the type of therapy, the type of education, the type of services they need.”

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White
Jerome Wright

Later this month, Wright’s organization, along with other criminal justice groups from across the state, is marching on Albany to demand the enactment of the H.A.L.T. Act.

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