But many corrections officials say solitary confinement is a necessary tool to control a dangerous prison population. Officers at the New Mexico prison point to inmate Nathaniel Stein as an example. Stein was placed in solitary after he viciously attacked a corrections officer a few months ago.
“I don’t really feel bad for the things I’ve done,” Stein said.
On the flipside, there are inmates in solitary like Freddy Munoz, who has been a model inmate, despite the severity of his crimes. Munoz was one of a select few handpicked inmates to get out of solitary and into the general population of the prison as part of Secretary Marcantel’s plan -- the restoration into population program -- to reduce the number of inmates in solitary.
“To be able to walk around a little bit more... to be able to go outside without having to be handcuffed and restrained every day, I think it would be very good for me,” Munoz said.
When Marcantel was released, the first thing he reached for was a large cup of coffee.
“Not sure I want to do it again, but I am really glad I did it,” he said.
After spending 48 hours on the inside, the secretary said he believes that soliatry should continue to be used but only sparingly, for the most dangerous inmates.
“There is such a thing as evil,” he said. “It’s not whether or not they are going to hurt people—they started hurting people when they were four years old -- and it’s up to me to make sure that not only am I protecting other inmates from them, but I am also protecting my staff from them.”
Sure enough, a few days after Marcantel release, Munoz, Daniel Herrera and six other inmates were brought out of Level Six solitary and into an intermediate level, in preparation for an eventual return to the general prison population.
“This is living, right here, finally,” Munoz said.
For the first time in years, they will actually be able to sit next to one another and have real human contact. These men are part of an experiment and part of a trend as New Mexico and the country takes its first steps away from the costly and controversial form of punishment.