This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:
A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.
In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamous—legendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.
One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.
Targeting: The ME State Senate and The ME State House Started by: Elizabeth Renter
Solitary confinement is overused and under-regulated. In fact, solitary confinement — spending nearly every hour of every day locked in a small cell with limited contact and mind-numbing idleness — amounts to a kind of torture, with prisoners subjected to the treatment often exhibiting precisely those symptoms of those who’ve been tortured. It’s hard to see where solitary confinement leaves off and cruel and unusual punishment begins. In fact, several federal cases have suggested that isolating the mentally ill in confinement produces such “extreme suffering” that doing so violates the Eighth Amendment.
Currently, lawmakers in Maine are considering a law to regulate solitary confinement conditions in the state prison system. If the law passes, it’d be a giant step forward — one that could pave the way for other states to follow suit. Urge Maine legislators to pass the law now to protect the state’s citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. Take action by signing the petition below.
I am writing you in regards to proposed legislation LD 1611, An Act to Ensure Humane Treatment for Special Management Prisoners. While the safety and security of Maine’s prisons must be at the forefront of your concerns, I believe that the passing of this bill could mean an increased level of integrity for the state’s Department of Corrections and better care for those people in its custody. The use of solitary confinement is widely and perhaps over-used in prisons across the United States. Too often it is seen as a way to get troublesome inmates out of the way, rather than as a last resort. By passing this legislation you could show that while Maine supports safety in prisons, it understands that basic human rights make tight standards and procedures a necessity. Because the use of solitary confinement involves such extreme isolation, I believe this type of regulation is necessary. Prisoners housed in Maine’s special management units should have access to regular mental health evaluations and a hearing if their confinement is expected to last more than 45 days. Those inmates deemed to be suffering from a serious mental illness should not be housed in such extreme segregation at all as several experts and federal judges have equated this with cruel and unusual punishment. These procedural standards outlined in LD 1611 are basic fundamental protections for people incarcerated within the prison walls and also serve to give prison personnel more clear cut regulations to adhere to. I encourage you to promote humane and fair treatment within Maine’s special management units by helping to pass LD 1611. The procedural safeguards outlined in An Act to Ensure Humane Treatment for Special Management Prisoners are common sense and long overdue.”