Reducing solitary confinement

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 2, 2011

RECENTLY THE UN CHIEF OFFICIAL ON TORTURE IN ESSENCE ACCUSED AMERICAN SUPERMAXES OF BEING TORTURE CHAMBERS. RECENTLY YOU ALLOWED THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGN AGAINST TORTURE TO INTERVIEW YOU. DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THAT WORD "TORTURE" TO DESCRIBE WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN MANY SUPERMAXES? I don't think what we have here is a supermax. I've seen some where the isolation is not only within the cell, but within the corridor. I think long-term confinement in segregation has negative effects. But in some cases you've got very violent, dangerous people. I'm not sure how to fix that. I always use the example of someone who comes into prison with a murder charge and then kills an inmate. At what point do you put that guy back out?

BUT ISN'T LONG-TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF PEOPLE TORTURE? I don't believe administrative segregation is torture. At some point, I guess, if it goes on long enough and the isolation is severe enough it could be. My concern is what we have here in Maine, and I don't see that here.

Praise for the reformer: A selection of reviews of Ponte's work

• "The reduction in the use of solitary confinement is just one example of the positive management changes he has made. I agree with the commissioner that, whenever possible, it is best to treat people in a more civil manner. The changes that have been made will reduce costs and lead to better outcomes." _Governor Paul LePage

• "Commissioner Ponte has taken an extraordinary step. He has reduced the solitary-confinement population in Maine's prisons by 70 percent. It is the right time for state legislators, governors, and directors of corrections in other states to do the same." _Reverend Richard Killmer, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

• "Commissioner Ponte has achieved extraordinary reforms to limit solitary confinement — effectively, torture — at the Maine State Prison. By treating prisoners like human beings, he is giving them a chance at turning their lives around in prison and when they return to our communities." _Shenna Bellows, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Maine  

Lance Tapley can be reached

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