Maine and Mississippi have both reduced use of solitary, also known as “segregation” or “SHU-Special Housing Unit,” by 70 to 80 percent. We are rallying to end this cruel and unusual punishment in Massachusetts that typically makes matters worse instead of better.
PBS Frontline has crafted a powerful 2-hour documentary, “Last Days of Solitary” available online for free. What makes this film so remarkable is that it humanizes the most dangerous and difficult to reach people who are incarcerated, and it takes us behind the barbed wire into places usually hidden from the public.
The camera brings us face-to-face with caged people in Maine, while officials transitioned 92 people back to general population over a few years, leaving eight in the unit. The new approach saves the state an estimated $1 million a year because staffing solitary is so labor intensive.
This film is a must-see. Even watching 30 minutes will inform you on why and how we can change this practice often negatively impacts people for years, and does NOT necessarily add to institutional security.
Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, a champion of rights of the incarcerated, created a 7 minute video of testimonies from Massachusetts residents who have suffered the torture of solitary.
Here is a sampling of bills Massachusetts activists are endorsing during the 2017-18 session. Please contact your state legislator, set up a face-to-face meeting and encourage him/her to support the bills.
Solitary Confinement Reform (S.1306/H.3071)
Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Russell Holmes . These bills would end the practice of sentencing prisoners to long periods of isolated confinement. They would divert vulnerable groups (youth, pregnant women, those deaf, blind or in protective custody, prisoners with serious mental illness or likely to deteriorate, away from solitary confinement.
To Collect Data Regarding Solitary Confinement in MA Prisons (S.1286/H.3092)
Lead Sponsors: Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Christopher Markey. Massachusetts corrections facilities are not required to make public information regarding our state’s solitary confinement practices. This bill would require quarterly data relating to solitary confinement, including the age, disability status and racial composition of inmates, the length of time spent in solitary and the number of suicides.
Segregation Oversight (S.1297/H.2249)
Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. This bill would create a solitary confinement oversight committee to review data and make recommendations on the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts.
Lead sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. Vulnerable populations, including those who have serious mental illness, should not be placed in solitary confinement. Those who are placed into segregation should have full access to regular mental health treatment, facility programming, disability accommodations and other humane services.