Maine Physicians Express Concern About Consequences of Solitary Confinement in Maine State Prison

March 5, 2010
Today Maine physicians expressed concern about yesterday’s Criminal Justice Committee 6 to 5 vote “ought not to pass” of LD 1611, “An Act to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Prisoners in the Special Management Unit.” The physicians cited data provided by the Department of Corrections that demonstrates a significant percentage of prisoners in the special management unit or “SMU” have been diagnosed with mental illness. Current research demonstrates that solitary confinement in the so-called special management unit can exacerbate mental illness or create mental illness where none previously existed.

“The Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians is strongly opposed to the use of administrative segregation (formerly called solitary confinement) based on its potential for creating and exacerbating severe mental illness (SMI), worsening cognitive impairment, crippling social skills, and its lack of rehabilitative value,” said Dr. Janis Petzel, Executive Director of the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) reported to the Criminal Justice Committte that as of February 1, 2010, 63% of prisoners (62/98) in the SMU carried an Axis 1 diagnosis. 48% of prisoners (47/98) in the SMU were receiving psychotropic medication of some type.

“The mentally ill shouldn’t be in solitary confinement,” said Dr. Jacob Gerritsen of Camden, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

* According to DOC data, 684 unique sentences to the special management unit occurred in the Maine State Prison, Maine Correctional Center, and the Downeast Correctional Facility from July 1, 2009 to February 18, 2010.
* 7 prisoners have been confined to the special management unit for over one year according to the DOC.
* 43 prisoners in the last two years have been released directly from the special management unit to the streets according to the DOC.

“Prisoners who have experienced segregation and who are released back to the community relapse back into criminal behavior sooner and more aggressively than their general prison population counterparts. Those who experience administrative or high risk segregation are known to experience unrelenting rage and an urge for revenge. How can this possibly improve public safety?” said Dr. Janis Petzel.

“No preparation for release just makes this practice hazardous to those of us in the community, as this increases recidivism,” said Dr. Jacob Gerritsen. “Our tax dollars can be better spent and at the same time keep the population safer from repeat offenders.”

Scanned copies of the exhibits supplied by the DOC to the Criminal Justice Committee are available upon request. A letter signed by sixteen Maine physicians including author Dr. Lani Graham and Dr. David Moltz, a Brunswick who is the former chair of the Committee on Persons With Mental Illness Behind Bars of the American Association of Community Psychiatrists is attached here.

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