“It didn’t take me long to start seeing things that weren’t in my cell, to start having a conversation with nobody there,” said Victor Pate, who campaigned for the legislation after being released from prison. Mr. Pate said he spent more than two years in isolation over his roughly 15 years in the system. “You never get over that. I’m not well by a long shot.”
Colorado barred use of long-term isolation in its prisons in 2017, and two years later, New Jersey restricted use of solitary confinement to 20 consecutive days. At least 11 other states, including Georgia, Nebraska and New Mexico, in 2019 also limited or banned punitive segregation for certain groups.
A large campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York kicked off more than eight years ago. But those efforts had long fallen short in Albany.
The state agreed in 2015, following a lawsuit, to changes that included improved living conditions in isolation.
A measure similar to the new law appeared primed to pass in 2019, but ultimately died after union pushback and a threat of veto from Mr. Cuomo, who cited concerns over large potential costs to carry out the changes. (Those projections were later disputed.) Instead, the governor agreed to roll out several less expansive administrative changes to alter the practice.
After Democrats secured a legislative supermajority in last November’s elections, which allowed a veto from the governor to be overridden, their efforts to pass the measure gained traction. Activists in recent weeks staged several rallies outside Mr. Cuomo’s office in Manhattan. The measure passed both chambers with wide support this month, and some lawmakers threatened to push ahead even without Mr. Cuomo’s signature.
It remained unclear on Wednesday night which aspects of the legislation, if any, may face changes.
The current legislation would restrict the use of solitary to no more than 15 consecutive days, or 20 total days over a two-month period. Punitive segregation would be banned entirely for people under 22 or over 54, those who are pregnant and individuals with mental and physical disabilities, among other groups.