We like to think of ourselves as enlightened here in Massachusetts. But when it comes to how we treat inmates in our jails and prisons, a bunch of other states have us beat — including Maine, led by governor Paul LePage, who has spoken longingly of bringing back the guillotine.
There, people have caught onto the fact that putting too many inmates in solitary confinement, especially for long periods, is bad for everybody.
It’s not good for the inmates. Isolation does permanent psychological damage, after even a few days, making even healthy people more likely to harm themselves or others. Putting mentally ill inmates in solitary exacerbates their illnesses.
It’s not good for the rest of us, either. Solitary costs two or three times what we pay to house other inmates. It denies inmates access to services they need to re-enter society, making them more likely to re-offend.
“You don’t put someone in the population if they pose a real threat,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, an attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services. “But you don’t just lock them in a box, either. You give them programs, some human contact, some incentive to improve behavior and give them a pathway out.”