The use of segregation units, where 500 of the 11,000 Massachusetts prisoners are held daily, has come under increased scrutiny, with state and federal court rulings limiting their use, says the Boston Globe. State legislators have proposed regulating them further. The Department of Correction defends what it calls special management units, saying they are needed to keep unruly inmates in order. “We have to be realistic when we're running these prisons,” says commissioner Luis Spencer. “Segregation is a necessary tool in a prison environment.” The growing divide over their use in Massachusetts mirrors a national trend. Prisoner-rights advocates, legislators, and even corrections commissioners in other states are increasingly denouncing the use of solitary confinement, while others defend the practice as an essential part of prison management.
“There really is a seismic shift going on in both the public attitude and corrections practice,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. “I think there has been a growing awareness of the extremely damaging effects of solitary confinement.” Data compiled by the Prisoners' Legal Services, a Massachusetts prisoners advocate group, show that inmates in some short-term units are being held far longer than initially intended. Inmates at the units at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center had been held an average of 139 days in September 2012. One prisoner had been there for 662 days.