Maine state prison officials say they’ve reduced solitary confinement to a memory

In the maximum-security Maine State Prison which currently houses 685 men, and the other six state-run correctional facilities, what most people consider solitary confinement – locked in 23 or 24 cells hours a day, incommunicado and indefinitely – no longer exists, according to state corrections officials. and previously served as Kennebec County Sheriff, so he has arrested and knows many inmates, whom he prefers to call “residents”, with a philosophy based on reform and rehabilitation. In her three years on the job, since her appointment by Gov. Janet Mills, Liberty has continued the rollback of solitary confinement that her predecessors began a decade ago amid a nationwide push to rethink it. Liberty acknowledges the trauma solitary confinement does not cause but opposed a failed legislative effort this year to redefine and ban the practice. cells are used. Liberty said, “They’re not here, because of any crimes they may have committed in the community. It has everything to do with their behavior here at this facility.” Manager Matt Magnusson said in an interview that the men held in restrictive housing have committed a violent act in prison against another inmate or a corrections officer. Magnusson said: “The reason is It’s not about punitive measures. It’s about providing a place safe for both the resident, other residents and our staff.” In the Restrictive Housing Unit, the focus is on rehabilitation, counseling and programming, and each inmate has a social worker. “Where we We can assess them and give them the skills they need to come back” to the general population, Magnusson said. Inmates in restrictive housing are allowed out of their cells four to seven hours a day and can lift weights or do the exe rcice outside. They are also granted other comforts to keep in touch with the world outside the prison. “Full-time tablet access – that means real-time texting to family members – phone access, in-room TVs with 120 cable channels. Not what you’d expect,” said declared Liberty. It’s not what you’d expect if you’ve seen the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, about a fictional prison in Maine. That’s not the case here. they are evaluated every 90 days. Liberty said: “The reason people are incarcerated is because of undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues, substance use disorders, trauma, neglect, poverty. All those kinds of factors are causal factors as to why people are here. Very, very few people are evil.” RELATED: “Throughout the country, I think, the system is looking for ways to punish people for behaving well,” Magnusson said. “We want to provide opportunities that demand good behavior.” To underline this philosophy, the prison’s former isolation wing has been converted into an “earned living unit”, where the best-mannered and undisciplined inmates live, with more comfortable cells and the most privileges. , like a communal kitchen just for them. month of a sentence. Additionally, the prison offers college and high school courses leading to degrees and requires every inmate to work, with the most coveted jobs in the industries program producing furniture for sale in a showroom. here we identify what brought them here, we treat them, we give them the opportunity to redeem themselves, and then they are released in much better shape than when they arrived, with all the tools and skills and pro gramming that they will have need to be successful on the outside,” Liberty said. “That’s how we keep the community safe outside. and we reduce the tax burden – if we have fewer people incarcerated, fewer people come, it’s a smarter way to fight crime.”

In the maximum-security Maine State Prison which currently houses 685 men, and the other six state-run correctional facilities, what most people consider solitary confinement – locked in 23 or 24 cells hours a day, incommunicado and indefinitely – no longer exists, according to state corrections officials.

“We lead the nation with the fewest number of individuals in restrictive housing,” Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randy Liberty said during a recent interview inside the state prison. of Warren.

Liberty was the director and previously served as sheriff of Kennebec County. He has therefore arrested and knows many inmates, whom he prefers to call “residents”, with a philosophy based on reform and rehabilitation.

In her three years on the job, since her appointment by Gov. Janet Mills, Liberty has continued the rollback of solitary confinement that her predecessors began a decade ago amid a nationwide push to rethink it.

Liberty acknowledges the trauma caused by solitary confinement, but opposed a failed legislative effort this year to redefine and ban the practice.

The prison used to devote 100 cells to traditional, punitive solitary confinement, but now has just 16 cells in a renovated “restrictive living unit” where typically less than half the cells are used.

Liberty said, “They’re not here, because of any crimes they may have committed in the community. It has everything to do with their behavior here at this facility.”

Warden Matt Magnusson said in an interview that the men held in restrictive accommodation committed an act of violence in prison against another inmate or prison officer.

Magnusson said: “The reason is not for punitive measures. It is to provide a safe place for both the resident, other residents and our staff.”

In the Restrictive Housing Unit, the focus is on rehabilitation, counseling and programming, and each inmate has a social worker.

“Where we can assess them and give them the skills they need to progress” to the general population, Magnusson said.

Inmates in restrictive housing are allowed out of their cells four to seven hours a day and can lift weights or exercise outside.

They also benefit from other comforts to keep in touch with the world outside the prison.

“Full-time tablet access – that means real-time texting to family members – phone access, in-room TVs with 120 cable channels. Not what you’d expect,” said declared Liberty.

It’s not what you’d expect if you’ve seen the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, about a fictional prison in Maine.

Liberty said: “People have a conception of Shawshank or ‘going into the hole’. That’s not the case here. »

The time in the restrictive housing unit is not unlimited and can range from three to 18 months, before an inmate is reintegrated into the general population; they are evaluated every 90 days.

Liberty said: “The reason people are incarcerated is because of undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues, substance use disorders, trauma, neglect, poverty. All those kinds of factors are causal factors as to why people are here. Very, very few people are evil.”

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“Throughout the country, I think, the system is looking for ways to punish people for behaving well,” Magnusson said. “We want to provide opportunities that require good behavior.”

To underline this philosophy, the former solitary wing of the prison has been converted into a “deserved living unit”, where the best-mannered and undisciplined inmates live, with more comfortable cells and the most privileges, such as a common kitchen just for them.

In the state where parole was abolished 46 years ago, other prison incentives include a “good time” formula that can reduce a sentence by 16% and supervised home confinement potentially available for the last 30 month of a sentence.

In addition, the prison offers college and high school courses leading to degrees and requires every inmate to work, with the most coveted jobs in the industries program producing furniture for sale in a showroom.

“We secure them here, we identify what brought them here, we treat them, we give them the opportunity to redeem themselves, and then they are released in much better shape than when they arrived, with all the tools, skills and the programming they need to be successful on the outside,” Liberty said. “That’s how we keep the community safe on the outside and reduce the tax burden – if we have fewer people incarcerated, fewer people are coming, it’s a smarter way to fight crime.”

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