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Solitary confinement reform needed in Mass.

JOANNA WEISS described well the grim reality of life in a supermax prison when she asked “How much should Tsarnaev suffer?” (Opinion, May 12). What Globe readers may not know is that some prisoners in Massachusetts suffer a very similar fate. The Department of Correction sentences prisoners for up to 10 years of solitary confinement for prison offenses, with no hope of release and with all the harm Weiss describes, including panic attacks, hallucinations, and loss of connection with reality. These are not terrorists (one of our clients was sentenced to solitary for leading a failed protest work stoppage). In fact, since 97 percent of all prisoners are released, they will nearly all walk among us when released from prison.

A bill cosponsored on Beacon Hill by Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Elizabeth Malia would end needless suffering by requiring that only prisoners who pose a threat are held in solitary confinement, and that they have a way to earn their way out. Ending the severe trauma of long-term isolation will also leave prisoners better equipped to reenter society, and reduced recidivism saves money. A recent study by the US General Accounting Office found that states which have reduced the use of solitary have had no increase in prison violence, and, in some cases, it declined. And millions of dollars have been saved from Mississippi to Maine. We should all support this common-sense reform.

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Leslie Walker
Bonita Tenneriello

The writers are executive director and staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts.