Legal Aid Society


LAS Sues to End Solitary Confinement of New Yorkers with Disabilities

The Legal Aid Society, Disability Rights Advocates, and Winston & Strawn LLP today filed a lawsuit to end the use of solitary confinement for individuals with physical or mental health disabilities in New York State.

The NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH) are in violation of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), which drastically reduces the permissible use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails throughout New York.

HALT specifically prohibits the placement of incarcerated people with disabilities in solitary confinement because of the medical consensus of the disastrous and frequently irreversible effects on their well-being. However, since HALT’s implementation, DOCCS and OMH have instituted policies that allow the State to do just that, and have maintained the practice of placing people with disabilities in solitary.

Maurice Anthony, a plaintiff in the suit, is legally blind. Despite HALT exempting people who are legally blind from solitary confinement, DOCCS confined Mr. Anthony to his cell for 19 to 20 hours per day on Mondays through Thursdays from October 2021 to May 2023. On Fridays, weekends, and most holidays, DOCCS locked him in his cell for 22 to 23 hours each day.

Mr. Anthony compared the experience of solitary confinement to torture, stating it was like being caught “in a trunk” or a “casket” where “you can’t get out.” According to the lawsuit, this extreme confinement and isolation caused him to endure blackouts, hopelessness, claustrophobia, and extreme frustration.

“HALT was intended to prevent the deep and permanent damage that people with disabilities often suffer when they are subjected to solitary confinement,” said Stefen Short, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. “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,” he continued.