Reducing solitary confinement

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 2, 2011

YOU'VE MENTIONED THAT IN THE STAFF THERE WAS SOME RESISTANCE AT FIRST TO ALL THE CHANGES. HAVE YOU GIVEN A LOT OF TRAINING TO THE STAFF? We've done some training. We've trained on the change in the policies. We have substantial training coming up on mental health. We've got a substantial amount of training to do on the segregation side. As staff adjusts to these things, staff usually finds better ways to do the things that we'd like to see done.

IS THE WARDEN GOING ALONG WITH THE CHANGES? SOME OF THE ADVOCATES FOR PRISONERS THINK THAT SHE'S A LITTLE RELUCTANT, THAT SHE SEEMS MORE PASSIVE THAN ACTIVE. I think that for a lot of people who have worked with prisoners for a period of time we kind of learn one way of doing business and this is a substantial change. I don't think she's reluctant. I think as we try new things we're not positive of the outcome. But we've proven in the juvenile setting that it's possible to get everybody on board.

DO YOU FEEL SHE'S COMING ALONG? Absolutely. I don't see reluctance. I just see "cautious." A lot of this stuff is new to her as it is to the staff.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION IN THE CORRECTIONS COMMUNITY NATIONALLY TO YOUR REFORMS, ESPECIALLY TO THE REDUCTION OF THE SUPERMAX POPULATION? Nationally, we're one of two or three states that have done that — Mississippi has done the same thing. We've had more reaction from colleagues locally. The commissioner in Rhode Island is amazed at what we're able to do here. I don't know if we'll be followed. Maine is different in a lot of ways. I've worked in California, and their gang issues are just off the chart — very severe, very difficult to manage. I don't think if we had those kinds of issues in Maine we could have been where we are today in segregation.

SO SOME STATES MIGHT BE ABLE TO DO WHAT YOU'VE DONE AND SOME WOULD FIND IT MUCH HARDER? Yes. In some states it's not impossible, but much more difficult, more complex.

WHAT'S GOVERNOR LEPAGE'S REACTION TO WHAT YOU'VE DONE? He's told me he's very happy where we're at. What he said to me coming in was he thought the department had issues and problems that needed to be addressed. He still wants safe, secure facilities. He wants our inmates to be safe. He wants them well treated. He wants our staff to be safe. And if we can save money in the process, as difficult a fiscal situation as we are in, I'm sure he's happy in that regard.

I THINK PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED THAT YOU DID WHAT YOU DID IMMEDIATELY HERE IN TERMS OF FIXING SOME OF THE PROBLEMS. YOU CAME FROM THE CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA, WHICH IS A GOBLIN TO PRISONER-RIGHTS ADVOCATES. BUT YOU SEEM TO BE HEEDING A LOT OF WHAT THE ADVOCATES ARE SAYING. PERSONALLY, WHAT HAPPENED? I changed jobs enough that I never come in with the mentality that I know what to do here. I come in and look at what's happening and make my best judgments. One of the things I've learned in 42 years in this business is that I don't know it all, and that others' opinions probably have some valid points. I've come in with an open mind. Developing new, creative responses to things has always been something that keeps me enthusiastic.

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