The lessons reformers elsewhere could take from Maine's experience, the report says, include the value of threatening a lawsuit, "forceful advocacy," and a willingness to work with government insiders.
Heiden's group threatened to take the department to court over supermax conditions. Vigorous advocacy came from a broad coalition of human-rights and religious groups, the NAACP, psychiatrists and psychologists, and others.
The coalition convinced the Legislature to require the department to undertake a study of solitary confinement. As Democrat John Baldacci's governorship wound down, several people within the corrections bureaucracy turned what could have been just another report to be shelved into a blueprint for reform. Ponte has said it guided him after his appointment as commissioner by Republican Governor Paul LePage.
But it's hard to discern what a new prison-reform chapter will bring. It may deal with whether Ponte is able to retrain his guards, some of whom continue to treat prisoners harshly. A recently fired guard captain at Warren faces a criminal charge of assaulting a prisoner. And, as detailed by reporter David Hench in the March 17 Maine Sunday Telegram, just last year a guard captain at the Maine Correctional Center at Windham pepper-sprayed a prisoner in the face while he was strapped to a restraint chair.
The next chapter also may deal with gubernatorial politics. The union representing most prison guards in Maine, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has criticized Ponte for reform moves. AFSCME heavily supports the Democratic Party. Prisoner advocates wonder what will happen to reform if a Democratic governor replaces LePage in 2014.
: This Just In
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