Category Archives: jails

Treatment not jails

by Lois Ahrens
Published: 8/18/2019 by the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Michael Ashe, former sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts

Michael Ashe, the longtime former sheriff of Hampden County, was an excellent salesman. He sold legislators on the idea that he could see into the future, and the future meant more incarceration.

Legislators believed him and taxpayers footed the bill for a jail in Ludlow big enough to cage 1,800 men. His successor, Sheriff Nick Cocchi, has a problem. Ashe’s prediction has not come true.

As of July 1, the Ludlow jail is incarcerating 421 pretrial men and 273 sentenced men, according to information provided by an attorney for the jail in response to a public records request. Sixty-eight men are jailed under Section 35, which allows the state to jail men who are civilly committed for “treatment” for substance abuse disorder. That is a total of 762 men; way under the number Cocchi needs to justify keeping all of his big jail open.

If bail reform happened and real alternatives to incarceration were implemented, what would Cocchi do? One alternative is jailing people under Section 35. Another option Cocchi is exploring, according to a WBUR report, is a lucrative agreement — at least $91 a day per person — with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to lock up undocumented immigrants.

In 2017, it cost taxpayers $77,729,229 a year to run Hampden County jails, according to budget documents for the jail. The majority of women and men incarcerated there are being held “pretrial,” that is they are mostly too poor to make bail. They have been convicted of nothing. It costs $100,000-plus annually per person to jail someone there. If $77 million is not enough, Cocchi has just persuaded legislators to give him $1 million more to support “treatment” at the jail.

Cocchi maintains that he is locking up men with substance use disorder because he is the only one who is compassionate enough to do it.

No matter that this flies in the face of what health and mental health practitioners believe — that people with substance use disorder are not criminals and that stigmatizing and criminalizing people runs counter to best practices.

No matter that on July 1, the majority of state commissioners who studied Section 35 for a year voted to recommend that the state be prohibited from sending people to jails and prisons for addiction treatment.

One thing is true, Cocchi has a lot of empty cells and a lot of correctional staff, and has hired some treatment providers. He is able to do this because we have invested billions of our tax dollars in building and funding jails.

And, as long as millions are poured into jails, they will not go to community-based, community-run treatment on demand. Think about what kinds of quality services and programs could be purchased for $100,000 per person. If these same choices are repeated, jail for people with substance use disorder will be the default. And if Cocchi has his way, jailing people under Section 35 will not only expand in his jail, it will open the doors around the state to other sheriffs who also have empty cells.

Massachusetts is an outlier. We are the only state that civilly commits people to jail only because they are living with substance use disorder. Now is the time to end it. Let’s invest in treatment not jails.

Lois Ahrens is the founding director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project, a national organization based in Northampton. For more information, find The Real Cost of Prisons Project on Facebook and at www.realcostofprisons.org.

https://www.gazettenet.com/Guest-column-Lois-Ahrens-27779474

Help restore more visiting hours at Gardner Prison

The visiting hours at Gardner State Prison have been cut to only Friday and half-time on Saturday and Sunday. This creates a hardship for many people because of their work schedules and/or the long travel distances to get to the prison.

Please join us in objecting to the policy by signing this petition:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/do-not-reduce-family-visitation-schedule-at-ncci

Please join our protest by calling your elected representative to the Governor’s Council to demand additional days of visiting hours.  Find your rep here.

http://www.mass.gov/portal/government/govs-council.html

Other medium-security prisons in Massachusetts have 29 to 39 hours available to visit, Gardner has just 14 hours a week on three days since March 27. Families are very upset because many people who work weekends can now visit on Friday evening.

Because only two adults are allowed to visit at a time, many families will not be able to spread out visits with the new limitations. Other problems include limited visitor parking, a small waiting area that only holds at most 30 people, and an equally small visiting room. Such over-crowding may cause some people to be turned away and unable to visit.

The families of the incarcerated men believe this limited visitation schedule alienates the families and harms children who need to see their father more than once a week. Severely limiting visiting hours does not promote the re-unification of families, and has caused great upset among the men who are incarcerated at Gardner.

Curtailing visitation is not in the spirit of justice and corrections systems reform. Many studies of incarceration and re-entry show evidence that maintaining strong family connections during incarceration leads to lower rates of recidivism and more positive dynamics within a correctional institution. THANK YOU for signing the petition and calling your governor’s council representative.

Visiting schedule for Gardner State Prison

Friday                   1-8:30 pm [Open two periods]

Saturday              9 am to noon      Last names beginning with A-L

12-3:30 PM         Last names beginning with M-Z

Sunday                 9 am to noon      M-Z

12-3:30 pm         A-L

Monday-Thursday            No visiting hours for general population.

Sen. Karen Spilka: Why a New Women’s Jail?

Four members of EMIT- End Mass Incarceration Together, a task force of UU Mass Action Network,

Sen KAren Spilka is a champion of the underserved.

State Senator Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

met with Sen. Spilka’s aide, Aaron Carty Legislative Counsel [Aaron.Carty@masenate.gov], to learn more about why Sen. Spilka proposed An act establishing an eastern Massachusetts women’s county corrections facility.

“It is not the intention to build a new jail, but to open the conversation,” said Carty. “She is not married to anything. She is listening to what others think,” he added.

Sen. Spilka has a history of diverting people from the criminal justice system, including efforts in juvenile justice reform. In the 2013-2014 legislative session, Sen. Spilka sponsored legislation that raised the juvenile age minimum from 17 to 18 and legislation that prohibited the shackling of pregnant women in Massachusetts jails, according to Carty.

Women detainees have special needs and 40 percent of the people at Framingham MCI are there on a pre-trial basis, people who are often marginalized. The bill is intended to be a conversation starter to solve the problem, Carty explained. “She is totally open to other solutions,” he said.

Bill Gardner, an EMIT member from Arlington, proposed a community meeting in her district of Framingham, in which the senator could meet with community members and activists to explain her position and motivation for introducing the bill.

Her main goal behind the bill is how to best serve pre-trial detainees at Framingham MCI and jails across the state. Senator Spilka plans to address the intent of the bill when it comes before a committee hearing later this legislative session. In addition, the public is encouraged to express concerns and comments by testifying or submitting written testimony at all committee hearings.