CUSHING – Rep. James M. Schatz, D-Blue Hill, has proposed a bill (LD 1611) entitled, ”An Act to Ensure the Humane Treatment for Special Management Unit Prisoners (SMU).”

It concerns me that we are asking correctional officers to put aside their safety in order to entertain a legislator’s image of how prisoners are treated.

This bill proposes that a prisoner be held in SMU for up to 45 days and if while there the prisoner does not commit or attempt to commit a sexual assault, an escape from confinement or an act of violence, he shall be placed back into general population.

So hypothetically, if prisoner ”A” threatens to kill prisoner ”B” and prisoner ”B” reports it, prisoner ”A” gets sent to the SMU. Prisoner ”A” simply has to be a good model prisoner for 45 days and he will then be returned to general population where prisoner ”B” still resides. What do you think will happen to prisoner ”B”?

I question how many of the sponsor/co-sponsors of this bill have actually visited the SMU and witnessed what the officers deal with on a daily basis and how they believe this bill will make things safer for the officers.

I question how the representatives would react if they were in a similar position as the officers that put their lives on the line for the people of Maine every day.

The bill speaks of taking away restraint chair use and handcuffs as well as other items used for protecting officers and other prisoners. Did we forget that this is a prison?

Our officers are understaffed, overworked and now we look to put more stress on them by making their jobs more dangerous. We are also opening the state to new lawsuits when prisoners and staff are assaulted or killed on a more regular basis.

The bill requires that a video recording is necessary for the use of chemical agents or forcible extraction from a prisoner’s cell. So upgrade the antiquated camera system in the SMU.

Take into consideration the job these officers do and put yourselves in their place. Talk with the officers and the prisoners that choose to be in the SMU for their protection.

Look at the Maine Civil Liberties Union Web site on this bill and I would point out that their description of ”solitary confinement” is not the same as Maine’s SMU.

The prisoners in our SMU communicate with each other using the venting system as a telephone system. They can visually see others housed with them and talk through the metal doors. Officers check on them regularly and conversations take place between officers and prisoners.

On the MCLU Web site a prisoner complains that the lights are left on 24 hours a day. There is a reason for lights being left on at night. It is so the officers can ensure safety by seeing the prisoner is breathing and has not escaped. Services are provided to those who need it and can receive them safely.

Yes the exercise area is a fenced-in area. It is a prison!

Prisoners do not exercise alone because there are usually one or two prisoners in the exercise yard at a time and they are simply kept away from each other physically by a fence so there are not more attacks. Prisoners have removed wires from the fence and used them as weapons on officers.

Prisoners are extremely resourceful, taking items such as paint chips and apple seeds to use as weapons on others and themselves. But we as a state refuse to provide stab-proof vests for these same officers and now we ask them to give up any type of protection they now have?

This bill does not make sense at all unless you are the prisoner. At some point we need to look at the main reason for our prisons and that is public safety, which includes the officers that work for the people of Maine.

Are there problems in the SMU? I think any prison will have its issues and Maine Department of Corrections has strived to correct issues. It is not something that will happen overnight.

Change does not come easily or quickly. And that’s something legislators might consider before they put the officers in more danger by passing LD 1611.

 – Special to the Press Herald