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Change Is Possible: A Case Study of Solitary Confinement Reform in Maine

NCJ Number
Zachary Heiden
Date Published
March 2013
43 pages
This case study of reform in Maine's policy of solitary confinement in its prisons documents the changes and processes that led to them.
In Maine, the number of inmates in solitary has been reduced approximately 50 percent; the duration of stays in solitary units is generally measured in days rather than weeks or months, and the treatment of prisoners in these units includes substantially more meaningful interaction with others and more opportunity for rehabilitation. Three lessons are drawn from this case study of how meaningful change in solitary confinement policies can occur. The first lesson is to "bring all the pieces together." Maine's reform campaign was composed of diverse voices and perspectives committed to the same goals. The advocates for change who raised their voices were doctors, clergy, lawyers, prisoners, inmate family members, legislators, and volunteers who were moved to action. Each of these constituencies had different but critical roles to play in providing relevant personal stories, medical information, moral visions, and effective strategies for reform. The second lesson is "the importance of leadership." Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have experience in organizing reform efforts, along with the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. People skilled in reform planning and implementation, along with persons with knowledge of the nature and impact of solitary confinement policies, can help frame the activities and concepts that will be emphasized in the campaign. This type of knowledgeable and committed leadership is important in motivating and guiding the efforts of volunteers willing to perform the jobs needed to achieve reforms. The third lesson is the "judicious and timely application of pressure." This pressure included threatened lawsuits, proposed legislation, public awareness campaigns, and communication of these threats to strategic policymakers. 80 references