Mass. DOC is making a mockery of new solitary confinement regulations

July 15th, 2019

The Boston Globe
July 15, 2019
Editorial Staff

What’s the state Department of Correction so afraid of?

Its new rules on the use of solitary confinement and a gag rule for an oversight committee charged with playing watchdog over its implementation are embarrassing for a state that was once a leader in prison reform.

If these “emergency regulations” are actually allowed to remain in effect, the Baker administration will have solidified its reputation as the least transparent since Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge occupied the Corner Office.

The rules in question stem from the trailblazing Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018, which tackled a host of thorny issues, including use of solitary confinement — or “restrictive housing,” as it is known in corrections. Solitary confinement can be harsh punishment, and its use should be rare and strictly regulated. To that end, the law created due process procedures for those confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day.

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Rules would place ‘gag order’ on committee overseeing solitary confinement in Massachusetts jails and prisons

July 9th, 2019

July 8th, 2019
By Shira Schoenberg

BOSTON — Amid controversy over Massachusetts’ solitary confinement policies, prisoners’ rights advocates say the Department of Correction is seeking to hamstring an oversight committee with restrictive regulations that would limit members’ ability to visit prisons and bar them from speaking to the press.

Those who expressed concern include key lawmakers involved in crafting last year’s criminal justice reform law, which created the solitary confinement oversight committee.

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Governor Baker defends state prison system, now under federal investigation

May 24th, 2019

The Boston Globe
May 24, 2019
By Matt Stout

Governor Charlie Baker defended the state’s prison system Friday amid revelations it’s now under federal investigation, saying he has no concerns about its operations.

Baker, whose administration oversees the Department of Correction and its nearly 8,800 inmates, indicated the investigation has been active for some time. He didn’t specify how long, nor has the agency commented on the specifics of the inquiry.

The probe, launched by the civil rights unit of the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts, is focused on reports of mistreatment of inmates in order to identify potential patterns and practices of abuse, the Globe reported Thursday. Lawyers who have been interviewed by federal investigators said they have provided documents alleging abuse of inmates who are 50 and older, inmates who are terminally ill, and prisoners who have spent months, even years, in isolation.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said Baker’s assertion that the department as a whole has complied with legal rulings and laws doesn’t mean there aren’t violations happening within the system.

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‘It’s Still Driving People Mad’: Critic Of Solitary Confinement Discusses Its Difficulties

March 5th, 2019

WGBH – All Things Considered
March 4th, 2019
By Barbara Howard

Reporter Chris Burrell, with our WGBH News partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, has been looking at solitary confinement in state prisons. Lizz Matos, executive director of the Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, discussed the issue further with WGBH All Things Considered host Barbara Howard. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: What’s going on beyond what Chris reported?

Lizz Matos: There’s something called the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU), and that is arguably one of most restrictive units in the country still. You can be sentenced for a disciplinary infraction for up to 10 years. Prior to the state’s criminal justice overhaul, you’d be sentenced for 10 years with literally no way out, nothing you could do. You could be a model prisoner for the next nine years and you would not get out.

Howard: Is it solitary confinement?

Matos: Yes, absolutely. It’s 23 to 24 hours a day. You get five hours of recreation a week.

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Jail Suicides Drop In Massachusetts After Years Of Increases

March 4th, 2019

March 4, 2019
By Chris Burrell and Hannah Schoenbaum

The number of inmate suicides in Massachusetts’ county jails dropped to three last year — the lowest tally since 2011 and a sharp decrease from 10 suicides the year before in jails run by county sheriffs, according to data compiled by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Last year’s package of sweeping criminal justice reform legislation didn’t directly address suicide prevention, but the new laws are pushing both state prisons and county jails to broaden definitions of mental illness and to cut back on practices such as solitary confinement, a known factor in inmate suicides.

One reform will require both state and counties to reduce the amount of time mentally ill inmates can be held in solitary confinement to 72 hours.

Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services in Boston, said the new laws should also create more uniform mental health practices in the county jails, which have been largely unregulated by the state even though it spends more than $600 million a year to fund sheriffs’ departments.

Tenneriello is glad to see the lower jail suicide numbers but said jails and prisons still need to focus on treatment, not segregating inmates and exacerbating their mental problems.

“Even the people we think pose the greatest threat to our prisons, let’s get them out of their cell, let’s get them treatment,” she said. “Let’s treat them like human beings, because locking them in a box is manufacturing suicides.”

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