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On the first day of the New York state legislative session, advocates and some legislators called for limits on solitary confinement in state prisons.

They are pushing for the passage of HALT, or the Humane Alternatives to Long-term Solitary Confinement Act.

“The use of solitary confinement in New York state’s prisons is a violation of human rights,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson, one of about 10 state legislators who took part in a news conference on Wednesday. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

The number of incarcerated individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 at a small state prison in Chemung County has grown from just four at the beginning of the month to more than 300 confirmed cases as of this week, according to the latest state data.

Visitors are no longer allowed at the prison, Elmira Correctional Facility, but criminal justice advocates are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state prison agency to do more.

Dave Burbank

The director of Cornell University’s prison education program is leading a campaign to provide more face masks to inmates across New York state.

Rob Scott with Cornell said 225 inmates in the Finger Lakes region were enrolled in the school's prison education program for the spring semester. 

However, because of the pandemic, classes have ended. Scott said online instruction is not available for incarcerated students.

Prison reform advocates have been calling for an end to solitary confinement. They cite mental health experts who argue that solitary confinement is a form of torture. Defenders of the practice say that it has its place, particularly to protect the population of inmates and staff from the most dangerous incarcerated people.

Our guests debate it:

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about cities like Attica, Auburn, or Albion? For some people, it's the prisons located in those towns.

Researchers at the University of Rochester are studying perspectives of prison towns, and how the presence of correctional facilities shapes socio-cultural, political, and economic life in the area. We hear about their work and what they've learned. In studio:

  • Joshua Dubler, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester
  • Kristin Doughty, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester

Advocates for ending solitary confinement say long-term confinement is a form of torture, and they are pushing for legislative reform. Some correctional officers say that recent reforms in the system are to blame for an increased number of assaults on officers by inmates because inmates don't feel the threat of solitary confinement.

We examine both sides of the issue with our guests: 

  • Jerome Wright, activist and solitary confinement survivor
  • Pastor Matthew Martin Nickoloff, South Wedge Mission
  • Pastor Scott Austin, Artisan Church 

Every day, thousands of New York residents stay in jail because they don't have the money for bail. Critics have railed against the system on numerous levels. First, they claim it's classist and racist. Second, they point to abuses that happen in jail. Third, they call for better rehabilitation as opposed to a purely punitive system.

The League of Women Voters is hosting a public forum on the issue, and we preview it with some of their panelists:


New York State is planning to expand opportunities for college courses in some state prisons. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Manhattan D-A Cyrus Vance say $7.3 million will provide college-level education and training for  more than 2,500 prisoners across the state.

The money comes from large bank settlements secured by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. 

Among the programs in this region will be classes at the Albion Correctional facility, provided by Medaille College and Five Points Correctional Facility, with services provided by Cornell University.

"When I was in Prison…Restoring Dignity and Justice." That's the theme of the upcoming Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School lecture series. It includes the highly acclaimed film "13th," exploring the history of racial inequality, both in the country at large and in the U.S. prison system. Our guests will include the speakers who will address how to build social movements in a time of polarization, and on the state of LGBT laws (anti-gay laws, as they're often known) in other countries. Our guests:

  • Dr. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
  • Maurice Tomlinson, attorney and LGBTI human rights advocate and a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  • Daniel Hunter, organizer with Training for Change and author of Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow

The University at Buffalo has launched an Innocence and Justice Project, devoted to helping inmates who were wrongfully convicted have their convictions reversed. The project brings eight students into contact with the 440 motions from inmates; those inmates might be innocent, or they might have suffered a miscarriage of justice in some way.

We talk about the effort to bring more resources to inmates who don't have the means to fight their convictions. Our guests:

  • Kim Diana Connolly, director of the University at Buffalo School of Law's Advocacy Institute
  • Jon Getz '92, co-director of the University at Buffalo’s Innocence and Justice Project
  • Farina Mendelson '17, third year law student and participant in the University at Buffalo’s Innocence and Justice Project