Maine's House of Representatives will vote Monday April 5, on whether to either pass "best torture practices" bill or continue to allow unbridled use of isolation and bondage punishment techniques by the state's prison personnel. The alternatives come as the divided form of LD 1611 comes up for vote today by the Maine House of Representatives.
NOTE: THE BILL HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN SCHEDULED TO BE HEARD FRIDAY APRIL 2ND.
Bill supporters say regulated torture is far better than the unregulated version currently in vogue at Maine State Prison. For that reason, they are calling on House members to vote to approve Alternative Two of the bill, the Nutting/Schatz Alternative. Prison officials, on the other hand, are urging that the "Ought Not to Pass" alternative be approved.
Under the version proposed by Senator Nutting and Representative Schatz, prisoners could not be held in solitary for more than 45 days without an open review, and those inmates known to suffer from a short list of mental illnesses that would be aggravated by prolonged isolation would be subject to other forms of discipline.
"The Department of Corrections' present policy is completely arbitrary", said Ron Huber, host of a weekly corrections-focused talk show on WRFR Community Radio in Rockland.
"My inmate correspondent in Maine state prison was ordered to six months in solitary for repairing other inmates' broken radios," Huber said. "No history of violence or other violations of prison policies. Yet inmates guilty of far more serious infractions received less than a week in "the Hole" as Maine Supermax is known by guards and prisoners alike."
"Regrettably, Commissioner Magnusson and his associate commissioner for public relations Denise Lord claim this this arbitrary system is preferable." Huber said. "It lets them literally wield the power of life and death in Maine State Prison " he said, pointing out all the suicides in Maine state prison during the Baldacci Administration have occurred in the Maine Supermax under the present arbitrary policy.
On Thursday morning, Maine's House of Representatives will vote on LD 1611, choosing between
(1) continuing the Department of Corrections current system of meting out arbitrary terms in solitary confinement/segregation at the whims of prison officials by noting Ought Not to Pass, or
(2) rationalizing the process by requiring the Warden and Corrections Commission to follow limits consistent with present day understanding of the impacts of the use of this punishment.
By whatever name: the Hole, segregation, solitary confinement, the practice is widely condemned around the civilized world as a form of torture, Huber noted.
"If Maine is determined to continue to torture its incarcerated citizens," he said, "then regulated torture is much much better than the unregulated nightmare sanctioned by Governor Baldacci that is presently taking place behind the walls of Maine's Supermax ."
Reform supporters say that is why passing the Nutting/Schatz Alternative is important.
"It will let Maine lead the nation out of the supermisery that the rise of Supermaxes has had on America's corrections", radio producer Huber said.
"The alternatives, doing nothing, or at best, urging the state prison to investigate itself, would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious."