New York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement

New York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement
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A group of New York activists are going on a hunger strike through the end of the state's legislative session to advocate for ending the practice of solitary confinement. 

Solitary confinement survivors and activists launched the #HaltSolitary hunger strike on Thursday to push lawmakers in Albany to vote on a bill that advocates say offers more humane alternatives to solitary confinement. 

At least 16 activists are said to have joined in the hunger strike on behalf of prisoner rights. The strike will last until the end of the session on June 19, or until the bill is voted on and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Activists say they are also planning to to hold a strike outside Cuomo's Manhattan office on Friday morning.

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The bill, titled the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, would end long-term isolated confinement, limiting an individual from spending more than 15 consecutive or 20 days total in isolated confinement in a 60-day period.

It would also ban isolated confinement for any person under 21 or over 55 years old, or anyone with mental or physical disabilities.

Victor Pate, a campaign organizer, said he was held in solitary confinement for two years. From his experience, Pate said prisoners in solitary often don't get fed, and the hunger strikes brings awareness to their treatment.

"We are doing this strike to bring attention to the lack of urgency shown by the legislature," Pate said in a statement. 

Nick Encalada-Malinowski, a campaign director for VOCAL-NY and hunger strike participant, said elected officials don't see incarcerated people "as fully human."

"Every elected official needs to be asking themselves this question: Would I allow someone I love to suffer the torture of solitary confinement? If the answer is no, they must pass the bill," he said in a statement. 

A spokesman for Cuomo told The Hill that the governor took action to begin transforming solitary confinement as part of his 2019 Justice Agenda, directing the state's Department of Corrections to speed up solitary confinement by building more housing and expanding therapeutic programming. 

"We of course remain engaged with the legislature on any additional reforms that can be operationally and fiscally implemented," said spokesman Jason Conwall. 

The push to end solitary confinement has seen renewed attention in recent days after Democratic firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDemocratic strategist: Sanders seeking distance from Warren could 'backfire' These 3 women are defining the race to unseat Trump CBS to Ocasio-Cortez on Sanders support: 'As a woman of color, why back an old white guy?' MORE (N.Y.) called for President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort to be released from solitary confinement. 

Ocasio-Cortez has frequently taken aim at Rikers Island prison — which is located in her district — for inhumane conditions, calling solitary confinement "torture" and a "human rights violation." 

--Updated June 14 at 12:40 p.m.