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January 10, 2013 at 4:30 PM

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Washington's policies on solitary confinement re-examined

Rehabilitation cannot be achieved without human interaction

Regarding "State rethinks solitary cells” [page one, Jan. 8], I applaud the state prison system's consideration of this new focus, and I hope it gains momentum. Thirty years ago, I authored a paper on this exact subject for a criminal-justice class I took as an undergraduate, and the idea was met with critical debate.

Jonathan Martin is right on the money that "solitary confinement's history is a pendulum swing between concepts of punishment and rehabilitation, and opinions on this are equally extreme.” I still maintain what I penned back in 1983: If the ultimate goal is to rehabilitate an individual and release him/her back into society, how can this possibly be effectively achieved if that person endures long periods of time with no human interaction?

There are some who will say, "The person gets what is deserved," and in a life-without-parole scenario, that may hold water, but it certainly does not when that person has a release date, and is then expected to rejoin the ranks of society as a productive citizen.

Granted, there is no simple solution, but I am really pleased to see that the Department of Corrections recognizes its responsibility to the community as a whole and is reviewing internal reform practices. After all, what occurs within the prison system affects us all.

--Irene Rodden, Lake Forest Park

Prison reforms will not coddle, but encourage responsibility

­My UW colleagues and I are pleased that the Department of Corrections has applied our research to improve programs for inmates whose prison conduct has placed them in solitary confinement. The primary obligation of prison management is to protect staff and inmates from harm, not to pass judgment on what kind of punishment people deserve — that is for the Legislature and the courts. If offender-change programs promote safety better than indefinite solitary confinement, then it is not only a good idea but an ethical responsibility to establish such programs and make them as effective as possible.

Reflecting on his past prison behavior, one participant told me, “we tried to gain power by threatening to hurt people if they didn’t do what we wanted ... that kind of thinking always leads to a cop; you encounter the resistance of those who want to live in peace.”

Such a recognition may begin the painful and strenuous process of learning how to live peaceably and respectfully among others. The programs described in this article are not about being coddled or treated better than you deserve, but about taking responsibility for yourself.

-- David Lovell, research associate professor emeritus, University of Washington, Napa, Calif.

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