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Group Files Lawsuit Against DOCCS, OMH Over HALT Violations


The Legal Aid Society, Disability Rights Advocates, and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of incarcerated New Yorkers with disabilities against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) and the New York State Office of Mental Health (“OMH”) for their alleged ongoing violations of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (“HALT”), legislation that went into effect on March 31, 2022 and that drastically reduces the permissible use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails throughout New York State.

HALT prohibits prison and jail officials from placing incarcerated people with disabilities in solitary confinement. HALT’s protections are grounded in the broad scientific consensus that individuals with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to the disastrous and frequently irreversible medical and psychological consequences wrought by solitary confinement, and the growing penological consensus that solitary makes prisons less safe.

Despite this, the lawsuit claims the DOCCS and OMH have continued to subject numerous people with disabilities to solitary confinement, which is defined under HALT as “any form of cell confinement…for more than 17 hours a day.”

Additionally, since HALT’s implementation, the lawsuit alleges DOCCS and OMH have instituted policies that allow DOCCS to place in solitary confinement people with disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, speech disabilities, mobility disabilities requiring the use of walkers or canes, and people who are hard of hearing or have low vision —in clear violation of HALT’s broad protection for all people with disabilities.

“HALT was intended to prevent the deep damage that people with disabilities often suffer when they are subjected to solitary confinement,” said Stefen R. Short, Of Counsel for the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. “DOCCS and OMH have unlawfully refused to recognize a number of disabilities as exempt under HALT, leading to even more incarcerated New Yorkers languishing in solitary confinement to their own detriment. This class action lawsuit seeks to hold both DOCCS and OMH accountable for ignoring duly enacted law and for putting the most vulnerable people in their care in harm’s way.”

“It is long past time for the State to end the use of solitary confinement for people with disabilities,” said Josh Rosenthal, Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “New York’s passage of the HALT Act represented a historic and important step in preventing the harms that solitary causes for incarcerated people with disabilities. But words are not enough, and DOCCS and OMH must comply with state law and stop this vicious practice once and for all.”

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