The psychological effects of prolonged solitary confinement on inmates and efforts to decrease its use are also the focus of a new two-hour Frontline documentary that will air Tuesday night on Maine Public Television.
“Last Days of Solitary” is a follow-up to the 2014 documentary “Solitary Nation,” which gave viewers extraordinary access to life inside the Special Management Unit at the Maine State Prison.
Dan Edge is one of the producers of the film, which spans a three-year period as the prison implements reforms. Speaking from London, Edge said the difference between what the crew saw in 2013 and what they saw when they came back two years later was stark.
“When we there in 2013 we were seeing violence of one sort or another every day. I mean every day in the Special Management Unit, sometimes many, many times a day. We’d spend evenings there where the officers were having to deal with self-harm incidents, with multiple extractions, with multiple flooding of the unit by inmates,” he says.
Much of this violence, including self-harm, is shown in the film.
After Maine State Prison officials reduced the number of prisoners in the SMU and began offering more programming, therapy and opportunities for inmates to transition back into general population, Edge says it changed the atmosphere on the unit.
“Our team saw no self-harm when they were filming this year. Heard a few reports of it but we didn’t see anything. We didn’t see any extractions. This stuff still happens. You know, it’s a prison, and there are very difficult and sometimes ill people there. Now, the prison says self-harm is down more than 80 percent over the last five years and that certainly tallies with what we witnessed,” he says.
The film also follows up with several Maine State Prison inmates who were in solitary confinement in the first film, one of whom was released from prison and later returned after being involved in a shooting. Edge says he hopes the takeaway is that efforts like Maine’s to reform the use of solitary confinement can be replicated around the country.
“Last Days of Solitary” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Maine Public Television.