Capitol Watch: Suicide prevention, solitary confinement
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, lawmakers are entering the final three weeks of their legislative session with a hearing on suicide prevention.
Tuesday’s hearing in Albany was called following research that found higher rates of suicide among certain groups, such as black children.
Meanwhile, supporters of legislation that would limit the use of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails to no more than 15 days are hoping for last-minute progress on the measure.
A look at what’s coming up this week:
Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland County, said he hopes the hearing helps lawmakers craft new state policies for suicide prevention and community mental health.
While it’s unlikely the hearing will result in legislation before lawmakers adjourn next month, he said he wants to examine the problem now so proposals can be vetted in time for next year’s state budget.
Carlucci chairs the Senate Committee on Mental Health, one of the two committees hosting Tuesday’s event. He said he has been disturbed by several recent studies examining suicide rates in specific groups, such as one that found that the rate of suicide in black children 13 and younger is roughly double that of their white peers.
“Adolescent suicide is the last thing you want to talk about or think about,” Carlucci said. “It’s hard to have these conversations. But we have to address it.”
More than half the members of both the Senate and Assembly have signed on to the legislation, which would prohibit any inmate in a prison or jail from being placed in isolation for longer than 15 days at a stretch.
Yet despite that level of support, the bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote, and supporters worry it could be left behind when lawmakers adjourn June 19.
“We have the votes to move this to the governor’s desk,” said Harvey Rosenthal, CEO of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, one of the leading supporters of the bill. “These people deserve treatment, not torture.”
The bill would also impose new regulations for solitary and require prisons to provide specialized treatment and services for inmates they say cannot be held in the general population.
Estimates are that as many as 4,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement in New York state at any given time. Supporters of the legislation say it can lead to lifelong psychological problems.
While the bill has several high-profile supporters, including the Mental Health Association of New York State and the state’s Catholic Conference, it faces stiff opposition from the union representing correctional workers.
Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said the proposal reflects Hollywood myths about solitary.
“Solitary confinement does not exist in New York,” he said in a statement. “Designed with safety for all in mind, special housing units separate dangerous individuals from the general population, and only when they commit serious infractions.”
CAT DECLAWING BAN
New York would be the first state to ban the declawing of cats under a bill moving through the state Assembly.
The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, passed the Assembly’s Codes Committee by a 17-1 vote Thursday.
Passage through the committee is a critical step toward a floor vote, which Rosenthal said she is confident will happen before adjournment.
Declawing is already banned in Denver, as well as 10 California cities.
Animal welfare advocates and many veterinarians say declawing a cat is cruel and inhumane since it involves the amputation of a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle.
The state’s largest veterinary association has opposed the bill. It says the procedure should be allowed as a last resort for cats that won’t stop scratching furniture or humans.