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Maryland mistreats prison inmates

The Sun's recent editorial ("Torture by another name," July 8) reports the disturbing fact that 8 percent of prison inmates in our state, some 1,760 people, are held in some form of administrative or disciplinary segregation. More incredibly, the Maryland State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, while providing this figure, does not keep records to indicate how long the average inmate stays in segregation, whether these inmates are juveniles or suffer from mental illness, or what the recidivism rate of such prisoners is once released.

It would seem that it should be no different for prisons than with other institutions necessary of our society: the climate is regulated by the degree of the community's concern for the common humanity of its members, regardless of who they are. Indeed, it is not hyperbole to characterize solitary confinement and other forms of disciplinary segregation as "torture by another name." Medieval castles accommodated their least regarded prisoners in a part of the dungeon called an oubliette where they were forgotten and left to languish in a subhuman existence of isolation and pain. The writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, himself imprisoned in Siberia for part of his life, wrote that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged upon entering its prisons.

We pride ourselves on the numerous advancements of our American civilization, but the level of dignity and respect for the human person currently practiced in our prisons in many respects is appalling, and the evils there are directly proportionate to the degree to which we citizens allow our officials and ourselves to forget them, to ignore them and to tolerate them.

Tom May, Annapolis

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