In regards to the recent Sunday Telegram editorial on limiting solitary confinement in Maine, (”Humanity, safety shouldn’t be at odds in prison,” Feb. 22):

While you understand one of the core issues here — the need for a balance between humanity and safety — you missed important points made during the public hearing on L.D. 1611.

First, the Special Management Unit at Maine State Prison includes the Mental Health Unit in addition to two segregation pods. It was added on to the old supermax when the new prison was built.

Prisoners with ”severe mental illness” (a tricky concept) have been placed on the MHU (which is as close to a psychiatric hospital as there can be in prison) instead of the segregation pods for a number of years now. As a mental health professional, I testified against the bill, and I was the only mental health professional there that had any actual and current experience at MSP.

There is no ”special management category” in MDOC policy. Prisoners housed in the segregation pods, although locked down most of the time, are not ”isolated” and can readily converse with many other prisoners (including during the exercise periods), and guards, mental health, and other program staff that regularly make rounds. Corporal punishment has been against policy (and law) for many years, would result in guards being fired and criminally charged, and is an insulting term to use in the bill. Finally, Rep. Schatz indicated at the start of the public hearing that the issue of use of restraints and mace was already being removed from the bill and is no longer an issue.

All competent and professional staff at MSP and other state prison facilities and jails in Maine strive to make incarceration as humane as possible for prisoners while maintaining safety and control. The issue of humanity and how the prisons and jails should be run on a daily basis should not be micromanaged by the Legislature through special laws, but should be addressed in MDOC policy by the Criminal Justice Committee.

 


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