March 5, 2010

Legislative committee splits on solitary confinement bill

The panel divides three ways on a bill that would change how the state handles segregated prisoners.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – A legislative committee split three ways Thursday on a bill that would change the way the state handles prisoners who are segregated from the general population.

Six members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to kill the bill, three voted to change it to a "resolve" to review policies governing special-management prisoners, and two voted for an amended version of the original bill.

The bill, L.D. 1611, would limit a prisoner's segregation to 45 days, except in some cases, and prohibit solitary confinement of prisoners with severe mental illness.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. James Schatz, D-Blue Hill, said he hopes to get support on the House floor for his amendment -- to ensure that oversight of the special management unit lies with a legislative committee, rather than solely within the Department of Corrections.

"We need to provide safeguards for extended stays," he said.

But others on the committee said they found no evidence that the system is being abused.

"I can't find a smoking gun," said Rep. Stephen Hanley, D-Gardiner. "I can't see where the corrections officials aren't doing an excellent job."

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said her group was disappointed by the committee vote.

"We think solitary confinement is a problem in Maine," she said.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com

 

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