July 15, 2021
The Boston Globe (opinon)
By Elizabeth Matos and Ray Champagne
Last year, the US Department of Justice excoriated the Massachusetts Department of Correction for its clearly unconstitutional approach to mental health care.
Many incarcerated people, their families, and their advocates welcome the news that the Massachusetts Department of Correction plans to end solitary confinement within three years, including especially punitive sentences to solitary, which can be as long as 10 years per offense. The end of this practice is beyond overdue.
For too long, our clients have had such experiences in solitary as being shackled to a chair in a cold room for 90 minutes daily, deteriorating mental health leading to panic attacks, paralyzing anxiety, delusions, and suicidal thoughts; and the humiliations of being denied personal property, human contact, and sanitation.
The impetus for real change may finally be here. Last year, the US Department of Justice excoriated the DOC for its clearly unconstitutional approach to mental health care. And recently an independent consultancy, the Falcon Group, submitted a report to the DOC describing a pervasive “innately punitive culture” that “minimizes the interests of rehabilitation or positive behavior change.”
The report, which was released to the public last month, made clear that not only restrictive housing must end, but also that additional out-of-cell time is itself not a panacea. Studies show that evidence-based rehabilitative programming and treatment result in less violence and problematic behavior and better outcomes on reentry. Programming must also be meaningful,evidence-based, and target the actual needs of the population. Due process on paper without due process in practice leads to indefinite terms in isolation.