Lock Them Up, Throw Away the Key? How the Maine Corrections Department is Slighting Rights of Prisoners and Self-Betterment Efforts of Addicts

By Illaria Dana, Education Major

The Maine Corrections Department is proposing to amend the conduct policies for inmates. According to the Portland Press Herald, “The proposed rules mostly seek to amend existing policies for adult and juvenile inmates related to commonly prohibited acts such as destruction of property, fighting, displaying gang symbols and possessing contraband.

“But they also include policies that have either already been rejected by courts or haven’t been tried in other states, such as bans on interacting with the news media, soliciting or communicating with a pen pal, passing or receiving written communication without authorization and social networking.”

A hearing took place on Monday, October 26th, where many citizens voiced their disapproval of the proposed rules of conduct. It is obvious that participation in gangs, violence, the possession of weapons, and drug use are detrimental to the lives of prisoners, the maintenance of order in prisons, and the ultimate goal of rehabilitating people who have committed crimes.

One is entitled to various opinions about the validity of the United States prison system and its proposed goal of correcting maladaptive and/or antisocial, criminal behaviors.

The United States population comprises 5 percent of the total world population, but our incarceration rate accounts for 20 percent of people incarcerated around the world, according to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). The ACLU also states that 1 in 35 adults in the U.S. are in the correctional system: in prison or jail, on parole or probation. The sheer number of people in the correctional system must cause each citizen to question our dependence on this system and ask, “Can we do something different? Do I want to increase the isolation of prisoners?”

One problem that many prisoners face is addiction. Drug and alcohol use greatly affects one’s personality and capacity to make decisions. The need for substances, a mental obsession coupled with physical craving, is often too much for an individual to handle on her or his own. Furthermore, drugs and alcohol may increase criminal behavior (as drugs are illegal) and keep addicts from forming and adhering to plans for living once they are released.

Members of recovery communities that operate through programs, such as twelve step programs, are allowed to have two members bring meetings once a week into jails and prisons in Maine. Regardless of inmates’ motivations for attending these meetings, which range from boredom to the sincere desire to recover from addiction, the opportunity to speak with other addicts who have made progress and lead exemplary lives in society is invaluable.

These weekly meetings are not always enough for addicts to change their attitudes and behaviors. Inmates in solitary confinement are forbidden from leaving their cells and from having any face-to-face contact with other humans. The ability to receive letters from the outside can offer prisoners struggling with addiction or in solitary confinement a priceless tool: hope.

Prisoners will be deprived of the opportunity to have any sort of pen pals if these new conduct rules are finalized without revision. Addiction, through stigma and loss of relationships, is isolating enough.

Besides the infringements on the rights of prisoners these new conduct limitations will cause if placed into effect, they will greatly reduce the opportunities of addicts in correctional facilities to begin their journey of recovery. The Maine Corrections Department has not yet stated when the new conduct rules will be finalized and what they will include.

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