Pressure rising

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  March 23, 2006

Responses to the articles
“A lot of the staff was very upset” about the previous Supermax articles, says Warden Merrill.

Indeed, guards past and present and their family members, wrote letters to the editor or in other ways expressed in detail how difficult it is for guards in their dangerous, low-paid jobs — a subject they felt our series neglected. Most of the feedback received, however, was positive. Several prisoners, family members, and advocates for prisoners called and wrote pleading for coverage of injustices they believed had been done to prisoners other than those mentioned in the articles.

Yet as part of its accreditation process national ACA officials recently issued statements highly praising the prison. The Department of Corrections and Governor John Baldacci trumpeted them loudly in a press release — it received a good deal of attention in the daily papers — even though the prison still has another hoop of evaluation to go through before it actually receives accreditation.

“I don’t see how the facility can be accredited while this is going on,” Senator Nutting says, referring to the Supermax’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

Skepticism exists in other quarters about ACA accreditation. The Web site of the magazine In These Times lists accredited prisons where prisoners have rioted over conditions (

Some former Supermax workers got in touch to say they don’t see how it can be easily reformed.

“The problem in the Max is so much more multifaceted than you could ever imagine,” says Anne Leidinger of Appleton, in an e-mail. She worked there for two years as a nurse. “And I would say to those who have not ever had first-hand experience in being in the Max day after day, that you cannot change just one layer of the problem. And the [restraint] chair is just one layer.”

But at the legislative committee meeting Commissioner Magnusson said changing conditions in the Supermax is now “my top priority.”

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