Solitary confinement is “a tool that needs to be managed appropriately,” said New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel.
After spending 48 hours in solitary at the State pen, New Mexico’s top prison guard now has some personal experience to motivate him to carry out his vow to reduce the hundreds of inmates in segregation, which was 9.6 percent of the prison population in November, and 9.8 percent in May, to just 5 percent by 2015.
Critics might dismiss Marcantel’s two-day stint in solitary, chronicled by Albuquerque Journal UpFront columnist Leslie Linthicum in a two-part series, as a stunt. They might emphasize he’s a literate man in a high-stress job who would welcome quiet time to read and decompress, might focus on the fact he knew he would be out from behind bars and grabbing a Starbucks after what amounts to a lost weekend.
All are fair points. But they are off-point if New Mexico is, in Marcantel’s words, going “to send people back better from prison than when they came.”
Because while solitary is “a place where the most dangerous people need to be,” the prisons chief points out “somewhere between 96, 97 percent of the people in our custody right now are coming back to our neighborhoods, whether anybody likes it or not.”
And having thousands of inmates who understand not only stepped consequences of their actions but how to appropriately interact with other human beings is vital to successful reintegrations.
So Marcantel deserves a little good-time credit for putting himself in an inmate’s jumpsuit and experiencing firsthand how isolating solitary confinement is on a psyche. That personal experience should help fuel the Corrections Department’s move to use it only when absolutely appropriate — with those Marcantel calls “bona fide, predatory, psychopathic criminals.”
Because while there is solitary on the inside, Marcantel says “if you overuse it, what can happen is that people can just adapt to those environments. And then all you’re doing now is creating a socially isolated human being that’s going to go back to your neighborhood.”
So Marcantel got a two-day break from a pressure-cooker job. He and his top staff also got a better grasp on why their inmates need to know how to act and react in situations in the New Mexico neighborhoods they will ultimately be living and working in.
Because there is no solitary on the outside.
— Albuquerque Journal