CANTON — Echoing support of resolutions adopted by the state Association of Counties, St. Lawrence County legislators, last week, passed a resolution opposing a bill before the state Senate and Assembly restricting the use of solitary confinement in local jails.
The resolution, passed Nov. 4 by the full Board of Legislators, says there is need to continue expressing concern and requesting assistance from the state.
State Senate Bill S.1623 and Assembly Bill A.2500, known as the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, is currently before the Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly Committee.
The proposed bill restricts the use of segregated confinement and creates alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options; limits the length of time a person may be in segregated confinement and excludes certain persons from being placed in segregated confinement, according to the state Senate website.
In the St. Lawrence County Legislature resolution sponsored by Larry D. Denesha, R-DeKalb, and co-sponsored by Legislative Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, the lawmakers state that the proposed state bill would put a stranglehold on local jails, preventing them from using solitary confinement on inmates when corrections officers and officials believe it may be in the best interest of the health and welfare of that inmate and the larger jail population.
Moreover, the resolution said it would create an unfunded mandate that counties construct new residential rehabilitation units for the therapy, treatment and rehabilitation of inmates determined to need more than 14 days of confinement.
“St. Lawrence County supports policies that improves criminal justice programs; however, mandating the counties to pay for new jail capital improvements to create residential rehabilitation units is extremely costly and is likely to exceed hundreds of millions of dollars,” the resolution reads.
James E. Reagan, R-Ogdensburg, said he was in opposition of the state bill and supported the county resolution because he believes it important that corrections officials have the tools that they need to keep facilities safe.
“Our correctional officers, both on the county and state level, walk some of the most dangerous beats in the state and I think it’s extremely important that they are given the tools they need to control behaviors that would never be allowed outside of prisons,” Mr. Reagan said. “I think that we should not give in into this notion that actions like solitary confinement are just being applied willy nilly. They’re not, and I think that professionals in the correctional systems try numerous ways of helping inmates to change their behaviors before they resort to solitary confinement.”
And while Legislator David A. Haggard, D-Potsdam, also supported the opposition of the proposed HALT bill, he said he questioned the use of solitary confinement.
“I do believe that the jury is out and the research is out whether or not solitary confinement is a humane and a proper way to deal with people within incarceration,” Mr. Haggard said. “I am supporting this solely because I do not want to see any impediment placed on local authorities to place people in (solitary) until such time as all the research is in on that.”