New to DVD this week:
LAST DAYS OF SOLITARY
An inside look at a high security prison’s reforms to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement.
Set in Maine State Prison, this PBS Frontline film explores a forward thinking program instituted by its warden to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, responding to the deleterious impact of solitary confinement on mental health, shown from years of study but largely ignored by the prison industry. Edge showcases the prison segregation unit, where prisoners spend 23 hours in their cells and often resort to self-harm to try to exercise some level of control on the corrections officers, smuggling razor blades and cutting themselves to force a cell extraction; or otherwise causing disruption such as flooding their cells by stopping up toilets. Followed over three years, the prison’s new reforms see counseling being substituted for additional persecution, with the goal of bringing prisoners out of solitary and eventually back into the general population. Several prisoners are profiled, including one violent participant in the program who’s subsequent murder of another inmate forces the warden to leave his post. Surprisingly, the next prison commissioner does not abandon the reforms but accelerates them, ultimately finding success, reducing the number of prisoners in solitary to a fraction of what they were, and seeing recidivism stats decline. Edge’s doc is an engaging look at a topic that’s been well covered before, but one that notably has an unusually hopeful message.