A doctor who in March stood with Petzel at a press conference in support of LD 1611, Jacob Gerritsen, a retired internist from Camden and a former MMA president, concurs, but emphasizes, “Let’s face it. Before the bill [LD 1611] no one was paying attention” to this issue. “When you’re in the trenches you don’t see these things.”

Petzel, an MMA member, says she is considering introducing a resolution at the MMA’s annual meeting — the next is in September — challenging the way the organization reviews prison medical practices. Gerritsen says he’d support such a resolution, though he suspects a “very uncomfortable” debate would ensue over it. The MMA took a “neither for nor against” stance on LD 1611, Gerritsen says, because of opposition from doctors he describes as conservative.

‘Physicians must oppose and must not participate in torture’
“Torture refers to the deliberate, systematic, or wanton administration of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatments or punishments during imprisonment or detainment. Physicians must oppose and must not participate in torture for any reason. Participation in torture includes, but is not limited to, providing or withholding any services, substances, or knowledge to facilitate the practice of torture. Physicians must not be present when torture is used or threatened. Physicians may treat prisoners or detainees if doing so is in their best interest, but physicians should not treat individuals to verify their health so that torture can begin or continue. Physicians who treat torture victims should not be persecuted. Physicians should help provide support for victims of torture and, whenever possible, strive to change situations in which torture is practiced or the potential for torture is great.”
_American Medical Association Policy on Torture, issued December 1999

The chief doctors’ organization in the state, with 2000 members out of 3500 active doctors in Maine, the MMA is affiliated with the American Medical Association, which has a strict policy prohibiting physicians from even being present “when torture is used or threatened”:

At LD 1611’s public hearing, Smith, the MMA executive, acknowledged the “grave concern” some physicians have with solitary confinement, but presented his organization’s involvement in peer reviews at the prison as a kind of conflict of interest that prevents it from taking sides on inmate treatment.

The torture inherent in solitary confinement is one of many supermax-related issues the Corrections Department has recently had to deal with. Former chaplain Stan Moody and others associated with the prison have reported guard and health-worker callousness toward sick or injured inmates, inmate beatings, and widespread tolerance of inmate abuse. Much of the mental-health therapy, they report, occurs infrequently and with the mental-health worker often separated from the inmate by the cell door, which is a violation of medical ethics since there’s no patient confidentiality.

The state police are investigating two cases in which supermax inmates died after allegedly receiving inadequate medical care or having care deliberately withheld. Although the MMA’s contract with the department allows it to review such an “adverse event,” Smith says the department has never asked it to do so.

Before the Legislature recently adjourned, it passed a watered-down LD 1611, requiring a study of solitary confinement to be undertaken by the department, the state Board of Corrections, and the Criminal Justice Committee. (See “A ‘Moral Victory’ Against Supermax Torture,” by Lance Tapley, April 15.) Backers vow to monitor the study and say they will push the next Legislature to pass a bill with teeth in it. Governor John Baldacci, an opponent of the original LD 1611, signed the measure on April 15.

Lance Tapley can be reached at lance.tapley@gmail.com.

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