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'It's personal to me': 11th-hour signing of HALT Act praised by advocate

Thomas O'Neil-White

Jerome Wright readily admits to shedding tears late Wednesday night when news of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement, or HALT Act, reached him.

“So I was done, because it seemed as if he wasn't going to sign that. It was just going to let the 10 days expire and go automatically into law,” he said. “And we found out that really at the 11th hour that he had actually signed it. I was elated. I was overjoyed.”

Solitary confinement reform is personal for Wright, a statewide organizer for the HALT campaign who served 33 years in prison. The measure restricts the amount of days an inmate spends in solitary confinement, as well as prohibiting the practice to vulnerable populations and providing rehabilitative services to those released from solitary.

Also personal to Wright is fighting for parole reform and other facets of the criminal justice system.

“I am still on life parole at 12 years after being released,” he said. “(It’s) personal to me because I have friends and family who suffer under a parole system that is not what it’s supposed to be, does not afford the type of transitioning that it espouses. So, yeah, there’s much more. There are so many issues in the criminal justice arena that need to be dealt with. HALT was the first, but it won’t be the last.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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