MCLU Blasts Committee Vote Against Limitations on Solitary Confinement

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 4, 2010 12:00 am

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Today the Criminal Justice Committee voted 6 to 5 “Ought Not to Pass” to LD 1611, “An Act to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Prisoners in the Special Management Unit.” Three committee members voted to turn the measure into a resolve directing a study of the issue of solitary confinement in the Maine State Prison. Two committee members, Representative Jim Schatz (D-Blue Hill) and Senator John Nutting (D-Leeds) voted in favor of the bill as amended.

“Regardless of what you call it — special management or segregation — the practice of solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time is inhumane,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “We are disappointed that the majority of members of the Criminal Justice Committee ignored the testimony of mental health and medical experts as well as religious and human rights advocates alike who called for the humane treatment of prisoners, especially the mentally ill. The consequences for prisoners, staff and our community are potentially catastrophic.”

The Department of Corrections revealed at a work session on Friday, February 26 that 7 prisoners have been held in the special management unit for over one year. They further revealed that 48% of prisoners in the special management unit are on psychotropic medication. They testified that prisoners have been released directly from the special management unit to the streets.

“The Department of Corrections has now admitted publicly that they are housing the mentally ill in the special management unit and that prisoners are being kept there for days, months, or even over a year,” said Bellows. “Prison should be a place where prisoners can get better, not worse, before they are released back into society. The Legislature still has an opportunity to achieve that goal through passage of this legislation.”

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