Unorthodox NM Prison Chief Put Himself in Solitary

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Solitary cell at Alcatraz. Photo by Danny Bradbury via Flickr

Solitary cell at Alcatraz. Photo by Danny Bradbury via Flickr

Season two of the A&E series “Behind Bars” takes a look at the challenges New Mexico corrections officers face policing a prison that has the distinction of being the site of the bloodiest prison riot in U.S. history, NPR reports. State corrections secretary Gregg Marcantel, a Marine Corps veteran and a 30-year beat cop, is becoming known for his unorthodox approach to reforming the prison system. He says that reforming prisons requires “the courage to set new expectations and hold … inmates accountable for pro-social prison environments instead of pro-criminal environments. The people that are placed in our prisons are going to return to our communities. They’re going to join us in the grocery lines, with our families in the movie lines. They’re either going to come back better or worse.”

New Mexico designed a cognitive behavioral course for inmates. Marcantel says, “Now we have guys that are so tattooed on their face … you can’t even see much of their real face and they’re now working together decorating cakes. You know, there’s progress. What we’ve got to do is … create circumstances for people to make choices.? At one point, Marcantel sent himself to solitary confinement. He says, “I was reduced to a pen, paper and a bible. Even within the short span of three days, I began to run out of things to think about and I then began counting cracks on the wall. You know, your mind goes everywhere. I’m not going to claim that three days in an environment like that taught me the whole world, but it got me up close and personal and allowed me to make better judgments from a policy perspective.”

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