[HCCN] Press Release -- Rep Schatz bill - solitary confinement

Bergin/Garvey bluehillme at roadrunner.com
Sat Oct 10 12:32:10 EDT 2009

For Immediate Release:
Contact 207-930-5232

Maine Representative Submits Legislation to Address Use of 
Solitary Confinement in Maine Prisons

WHAT: Representative Jim Schatz recently submitted legislation to be considered in the upcoming 2010 legislative session in the state of Maine.  The proposed bill would reduce the use and abuse of solitary confinement in Maine Prisons. The Legislative Council will make a decision whether to accept the proposed bill for the 2010 Session on October 15, 2009.

The bill creates a strict administrative framework, as well as oversight, for the future use of solitary confinement in Maine State Prisons.  It also prohibits the placement into segregation with serious mental illnesses.  

WHY: The legislation comes as a response to a growing medical consensus that the psychological impacts of long-term solitary confinement constitutes torture.  New legal research also suggests that prolonged use of isolation may violate the Constitution.  Additional evidence reported from the American Friends Service Committee suggests that it costs twice as much per prisoner to keep them confined in segregation as opposed to general population.

US Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, has written about his experience in solitary confinement while a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War that "it's an awful thing, solitary. . .it crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."  A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered. (Gawande, Atul.  "Hell Hole." The New Yorker. 30 March 2009). 

Reported problems in Maine's Department of Corrections segregation units also indicate a need to address current policy that governs the use of segregation in Maine Prisons.  In 2006, a severely mentally ill inmate killed himself in his solitary cell, and the Department of Corrections is now facing a lawsuit from the prisoner's family.  Then in the past year, a prisoner requiring medical attention died while in segregation.  The Board of Visitors has documented low morale and high turnover rate among prison employees.  In the last year, prisoners in solitary also have gone on hunger strike twice to change the conditions in their unit.  

Today Maine houses 5 to 8 percent of its prison population in segregation.  In a state of just 1.4 million residents, Maine has more prisoners in solitary confinement than all of England, a country of 51 million.

"Anyone who believes in humane treatment for prisoners will support this excellent bill, which puts some economically sound and civilized guidelines in place for Maine," says Judy Garvey, Director of Volunteers for Hancock Jail Residents.

Dr. Atul Gawande of Boston published a comprehensive expose in the The New Yorker (March 2009) on the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.  He writes, "In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement-on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door."

"As policy stands today, the long-term segregation of prisoners as an administrative option is unaccountable to the people of Maine," says Representative Jim Schatz. "My bill seeks to change these vague procedures regarding the use of solitary confinement in Maine prisons."

Additional Contacts:
Representative Jim Schatz 207-266-9789

Judy Garvey. Director of Volunteers for Hancock Jail Residents and Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition 207-374-2437
Ray Luc Levasseur.  Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition and Former Prisoner that served 15 years in solitary. 207-342-2076
Nadine Joseph. Husband is in Solitary in Maine 207-266-6342
Bonnie Kerness. American Friends Service Committee 908-410-3978


For a complete overview: www.daapspace.daap.uc.edu/~murphyd4/prisonjustice/index.html

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