INJUSTICE IS EVERYWHERE
Thank you for the timely interview with Harvey Silverglate (see "You're All Guilty," by Peter Kadzis, September 25). He mentions that the orgy of questionable indictments started in the '80s. Funny, I'm just reading In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Mathiessen ? it details rampant witness tampering and prosecutorial incompetence leading up to the conviction of Leonard Peltier for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1975. So, I'd have to say that the Nixon years led up to the idea of using the Justice Department as a political tool, if not earlier. I guess Silverglate's pointing out the spreading of such tactics to victimizing members of the white majority, where they've always been used on the minorities.
PRISON CONDITIONS ARE EMERGENCY
I want to thank Lance Tapley for his excellent awareness-raising articles concerning the abusive treatment of some of Maine's prison population. In recent issues, he has kept before us the dangers of prolonged solitary confinement in the SMU ("Supermax"), the harsh treatment of Deane Brown exiled to a supermax in Maryland at the behest of the Baldacci administration., and the unaccountability and apparent ineffectiveness of the Maine State Prison's Board of Visitors. (See, for example, "Secret, Co-Opted, and Unaccountable," August 14, and "Prison 'Troublemaker' Confronts Racism, Medical Abuse," September 11.)
Now we learn that beyond the tightly controlled domain of the Department of Corrections, the Maine Human Rights Commission has come to the shocking conclusion that the Commission has no jurisdiction to protect prisoners from discrimination suffered behind "the wall." (See "Less Than Equal," October 2.) Admittedly they were encouraged by the Attorney General's Office, based on a ruling by Justice Atwood in Napier v. Department of Corrections (2002) finding that "prisons offer no services to the general public." (Really? One wonders what they are for, in that case.) This kind of Red Queen logic (Alice in Wonderland) defining eligibility by site, does all Mainers a disservice.
I was heartened that the truly informed members of the Commission, executive director Patricia Ryan and John Gause, its chief lawyer, came to a different conclusion and read more recent cases; not that it seems that the other Commission members put much stock in legal considerations, given their quoted comments. I am disappointed that chairman Paul Vestal, who has been on the Commission for far too long, but who used to know better, is now completely cloaked in the cynicism normally displayed by the generally uninformed members of the public, who like to think that no prisoner has any integrity and all are congenital liars. I have worked in prisons for the last 30 years and know that the "inside" population of prisons share the same gamut of moral (and immoral) values/attitudes as the "outside" society ? no better, no worse. And if prisoners dream up mischief like frivolous suits because they have too much time on their hands, it is surely because we, the society, prefer to pay for warehousing rather than education and job skills building, which are proven life- changers.
It would be wonderful if the Commission quickly sees the error of its ways. However, it would be even better if we made some preventative efforts ? not by refusing remedies to discrimination against prisoners, but by reforming the conditions complained of. A good place to start would be for the next session of the Legislature to agree to accept the bill submitted by Representative Jim Schatz to limit the use of solitary confinement and to give clear directives as to when and how it may be used. This is much more of an emergency than most of the bills that, I suspect, will be accepted for 2010.