- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The use of solitary confinement in Montana prisons would be banned for some prisoners and restricted for others under a bill introduced Thursday.

Democratic Rep. Jenny Eck of Helena said House Bill 490 is about humane treatment in prisons and other state detention facilities.

“We have to be realistic about how to interact with human beings to ensure they remain human beings,” she said about the bill presented to the House Judiciary Committee.

Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard said the proposed restrictions, which include inmate evaluations and hearings, are unreasonable and would take away the ability of staff to safely manage inmate populations.

“I sincerely appreciate the concerns and I concur wholeheartedly with the necessity for change. But HB 490 is not the answer,” he said.

Eck said some inmates have been released from prison straight from solitary confinement, which isn’t good for the community or the inmate.

Under the measure, solitary confinement of two weeks or more would be banned for people under 18, those with severe mental illness, and with certain exceptions, an inmate within a year of release.

Patty Jacques spoke in favor of the bill, saying her son was an inmate who spent more than eight months in solitary confinement. She said he has a severe mental illness and was a “vegetable” by the time his family could get him moved to the state hospital.

“Animals are treated better,” Jacques said. “It’s a shame upon Montana.”

Kirkegard said his prison staff does not arbitrarily put inmates in solitary confinement and they’re given ample opportunity to avoid a long stay in the restrictive environment.

He also said the 12-bed mental health treatment unit isn’t adequate for the high number of inmates with mental illnesses.

“I want to help these people too. I have no options,” he said.

Solitary confinement can include 22 to 24 hours a day of physical and social isolation, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Seven states have passed laws in recent years that limit or ban the use of solitary confinement for youth in detention facilities.

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