Maryland doesn't hold inmates in solitary confinement

Your editorial about solitary confinement in Maryland's prisons mischaracterizes how Maryland utilizes inmate administrative and disciplinary segregation ("Torture by another name," July 7). State regulations make it effectively impossible for Maryland's prisons to hold inmates in solitary confinement.

In Maryland, an inmate can only be placed in isolation for up to 48 hours, and even this can be done only in consultation with medical and mental health professionals. Inmates with mental disorders cannot ever be placed in isolation. For any period longer than 16 hours, an inmate in isolation must be medically and mentally evaluated every four hours. This is as close as it gets in our state to solitary confinement.

Moreover, isolation is never used discipline inmates. It is used only to control behavior when an inmate becomes a threat to themselves, other inmates or the security of the institution. For example, we use isolation for inmates who are placed on suicide watch.

Segregation is based on a clearly defined set of rules and penalties and is used effectively in prisons every day. I have been in corrections for over four decades, and I can assure you the use of segregation, whether administrative or disciplinary, is nothing at all like solitary confinement. And segregation is far from torture.

In fact, an inmate on segregation can have almost the same privileges — a TV or radio in the cell, access to the commissary or visitation privileges — as those in general population. If not, he or she has the ability to earn their way back to full privileges, and by the end of a term of disciplinary segregation most inmates do.

Inmates on segregation are housed with other inmates who, like them, broke the rules. This means they recreate, socialize and eat with others like them.

Moreover, transparency is built into the use of segregation to prevent its overuse or abuse in an institution. Every inmate on segregation's case is reviewed by a panel of the prison's case management and security staff every 30 days. The review teams are varied, so each 30-day review is generally carried out by a different group of people.

This takes control over an inmate's segregation away from any single person. It also ensures that an inmate's behavior adjustment progress is monitored impartially and is clearly accounted for, making transition back into the general population as short a process as possible. And while a warden can shorten a term of disciplinary segregation based on these reviews, he or she cannot lengthen it.

Like anywhere else in society, without rules prisons would become disorderly and unsafe places. Like anywhere else in society, when you break the rules there are consequences. Without the ability to place inmates on segregation, prisons cannot effectively or safely manage their populations, and the lives of staff and other inmates would be put at risk.

I agree wholeheartedly that prison systems should strive to reduce their isolation populations. In my career, I have never seen any sort of systematic use of isolation that created positive impacts on a prison system, or do anything to improve the public safety. Fortunately, this is not an issue for Maryland.

Inmate segregation based on a structured set of rules and well-defined penalties for breaking those rules is nothing akin to isolation, solitary confinement or torture.

Gary D. Maynard, Towson

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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