Category Archives: Mass. Department of Corrections

Make every correctional officer a program officer

Gov. Baker [of Massachusetts] has proposed $640 million for the Department Image result for photo of a correctional officer FREEof Corrections [DOC] for 2019 PLUS a line item for $11 million for the training and hiring of 200 new correctional officers [COs]. The DOC now spends less than 2 percent on programs for incarcerated people.

Does this reflect our priorities or prepare people to return home? Some 92 percent of all incarcerated people will return home.

Another possibility is to transition toward the goal that all COs serve as program officers, who share a skill and/or knowledge with the people in their care. The program can be practically anything–culinary, GED preparation/tutoring, plumbing, carpentry, writing, running a small business, yoga/mindfulness, college or high school classes, computer repair/programming, job skills, trauma awareness/healing, or sales and communication skills, to name a few possibilities.

“The union would never go for it,” according to naysayers. What about tuning into the WIFM channel — What’s in it for me?

When every CO is a program officer, they:

  1. Would work in a safer environment because their relationships with incarcerated people would be transformed from adversarial and punishment to one of friendly guidance;
  2. Would have more interesting satisfying jobs, that go deeper than providing security and warehousing, with opportunities to help people;
  3. Might have less suicide and/or substance abuse disorder, better relationships at work and at home, and improved mental and physical health in the short and long term.

Wouldn’t that be motivation for the union to work toward constructive change within the system?

With a healthier environment, other problems might dissipate, such as contraband and drug distribution and use inside; gang membership; violence; mental illness; idleness and lack of motivation and rehabilitation.

New ideas are typically first ridiculed. More humane prisons in Europe have demonstrated that more progressive prisons and jails result in dramatically lower rates of recidivism.

We have nothing to lose from implementing something NEW in our broken correctional system, which depends on repeat customers filling our prisons and jails.  It would give the opportunity for the DOC to fulfill its motto of “Manage, Care, Program, Prepare.”

 

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Statehouse rally Oct 12, reform in reach

Some degree of comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts is likely in the next few months.  The question is how much.

The MA State Senate is expected to vote on its omnibus bill, S.2170, sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps on October 19th.  The House omnibus bill will probably be reported out shortly after that, and Speaker DeLeo said he hopes it will be voted on and the two bills sent to a conference committee before Thanksgiving.  Depending on how arduous that process is, we might have comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts by the end of December.  Exciting times indeed!

The biggest dangers here are that the Senate bill may be weakened by amendments, the House bill might be a lot weaker than the Senate bill, and the resulting law might not have much impact.

There may also be an opportunity to strengthen the Senate bill, especially its provisions regarding the conditions of solitary confinement.

If the proposed MA Senate omnibus became law, it would improve thousands of people’s lives.  Among other things, it would:

+  Reduce fees, fines, and other collateral consequences that trap people in a cycle of poverty and recidivism;
+  Raise the age for being tried as an adult to 19, with a mechanism to consider raising it to 20 or 21 in the future;
+  Promote the use of restorative justice;
+  Repeal mandatory minimums for lower-level drug offenses;
+  Expand eligibility for diversion to drug treatment;
+  Implement the SJC ruling that bail must be affordable;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500, in keeping with other states;
+  Allow records to be sealed after 3 years for misdemeanors and 7 years for felonies;
+  Restrict the use of solitary confinement and improve its conditions;
+  Provide for medical release of people who are incapacitated or terminally ill; and
+  Decriminalize disturbing a school assembly and sexual activitiy between young people close in age, also know as the Romeo and Juliet provision.

Six things you can do to help make real reform a reality:

(1)  Come to a rally for criminal justice reform today — Thursday, October 12 — 11 a.m. on the grand staircase in the State House.

(2)  Call or email your state senator and ask them to vote for the criminal justice reform omnibus bill, S.2170, without amendments that would compromise its goals.  You could add a request that they support amendments that would further improve the conditions of solitary confinement.

(3)  Call or email your state representative and ask them to make sure that Rep. Claire Cronin, the House Judiciary Committee co-chair, knows that they support a strong omnibus bill.  You could add that you hope the House bill will include some or all of the priorities listed above.  (You can look up your legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

(4)  Send letters to the editor to your local paper explaining why you think these issues are important and supporting the Senate omnibus bill.

(5)  Write supportive comments (questions are fine too) on Sen. Will Brownsberger’s blog at https://willbrownsberger.com/senate-criminal-justice-reform-package/

(6)  Share this information with your friends (by social media, email, or good old-fashioned conversation) and tell them you’re excited by this opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Lori Kenschaft

On behalf of EMIT leadership team

EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots all-volunteer working group of Unitarian Universalism Mass Action Network

The only way to reform our state’s judicial and corrections systems is through a number of bills passed over several years.
This requires regular contact with your state legislators.

​EMIT
End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots volunteer
working group of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
http://www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com

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.

MA State Senators are listening to us

State senators and the ACLU held their first Commonwealth Conversation on Feb. 28. in Canton. Thanks to Peter Panov of Needham for this report.

The Commonwealth Conversations South Shore Town Hall on Tuesday, February 28th showed widespread interest in justice and corrections systems reform. This Town Hall was for Senators Keenan, O’Connor, Ross, Rush, and Timilty’s districts, however half of the Senate’s 40 members were present.

They explained these meetings represent a portion of setting the Senate’s agenda for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Among several of the frequently repeated themes such as the Safe Communities Act and the planned Weymouth gas compressor station was justice and corrections system reform in the Commonwealth.

Six of the 54 statements (by about 50 citizens attending the meeting) addressed Criminal Justice reform, from: ending mass incarceration in general and mandatory sentencing; to mandatory minimums, solitary confinement, and reducing recidivism; to unnecessary imprisonment, rehabilitation, and the example of a traffic fine becoming a license suspension becoming imprisonment.

From the ACLU Freedom Agenda (which includes “Smart Justice” — shifting from incarceration to rehabilitation) reflecting the speaker’s values; to 60% of our jailed being held pre-trial & 70 percent of those held because they can’t afford bail; to raising the felony larceny threshold, with the remark that Texas’s felony larceny at $2500 required to constitute a felony versus a misdemeanor, is TEN times ours, but Texans are not ten times better!

This is a clear message that moving Massachusetts away from mass incarceration is a priority for many Commonweawlth citizens, who are passionate about some several solutions we need to the many aspects of the problem.

More ACLU/Senator meetings are scheduled in March and April: March 7 in the Southeast; March 14 in Central; March 21 in Northeast; March 28 in Western; April 4 in Metrowest; and April 11 in Northshore.

Connect to Correctional Officers to gain understanding

This article published in Mother Jones gives excellent insight into the job of a private prison guard. The book, “NewJack: Guarding Sing Sing” by Ted Conover, is another excellent accoung by an undercover journalist. I found “NewJack” at my public library. It is well-written, informative and interesting.

To succeed in our movement to reform our police, justice and corrections systems, we must reach out to those responsible for enforcing our policies — the correctional officers and departments of corrections. These are worth reading.

My four months as a private prison guard
Shane Bauer, Mother Jones

This blockbuster first-person piece details Bauer’s undercover job as a guard in a Louisiana penitentiary run by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the U.S. (It has since rebranded as CoreCivic.) Bauer witnessed violence and cost-cutting at every turn, and — as journalist Ted Conover did in his similar 2000 book, “New Jack” — examined his own evolving reaction to a job spent keeping other people locked up.

— submitted to The Marshall Project by Beth Schwarztapfel

Incarceration in the U.S. costs more than $1 trillion a year, Washington University study claims

The economic toll of incarceration in the U.S. tops $1 trillion, and more than half of that falls on the families and communities of the people incarcerated, according to a recent study by Washington University researchers.

“For every dollar in corrections spending, there’s another 10 dollars of other types of costs to families, children and communities that nobody sees because it doesn’t end up on a state budget,” said Michael McLaughlin, the doctoral student and certified public accountant who led the study. “Incarceration doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

The study’s authors claim to be the first to assign an actual dollar amount to the societal costs of incarceration, not just the governmental costs of running corrections systems, which many experts estimate to be $80 billion.

 That $80 billion number “considerably underestimates the true cost of incarceration by ignoring important social costs,” the researchers wrote.

The study was spearheaded by McLaughlin and Carrie Pettus-Davis, who as co-director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative advocates for the shrinking of the U.S. mass incarceration system, which is the largest in the world. Pettus-Davis is also director of the Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice, which like the initiative is based at Washington U.

Some of the societal costs of incarceration include the wages people no longer earn while imprisoned — $70.5 billion — and the amount of lifetime earnings they will likely lose out on — $230 billion — after they get out because of employment restrictions and discrimination against the formerly incarcerated, the study says.

The formerly incarcerated also have a mortality rate that is 3.5 times higher than people who were not incarcerated, according to the study, and researchers estimated the cost of their shortened lives to be $62.6 billion.

As for the communities where incarcerated people live, the researchers believe the biggest cost — $285.8 billion — is the criminogenic effect of prison, or the theory that prison reinforces criminal behaviors that carry over into a community.

Incarcerated people are 18 to 25 times more likely than those who have never been jailed to commit a crime in the future, Pettus-Davis says.

Jail and prison removes a person’s social ties to a community, so it’ll become harder for them to get a job, and they’ll be more likely to turn toward crime to fill that economic need, McLaughlin says. Because incarceration is so frequent in some communities, the social deterrent to not commit a crime may be weakened in those neighborhoods, McLaughlin added.

 “We’re getting to a point in the U.S., in society, that we’ve incarcerated so many people that it’s kind of become a common thing in some communities,” McLaughlin said.

Children with incarcerated parents are also five times more likely to go to prison themselves and receive less education and wages, a total estimated cost of $166.6 billion.

Other costs include the increased likelihood of divorce, $17.7 billion, decreased property values, $11 billion and adverse health, $10.2 billion.

The study’s authors acknowledge that correlation does not always equal causation and that these costs may have already been likely to happen in the community independent of incarceration because of other associated phenomena, like poverty. The authors were careful to select research that controlled for factors like poverty and isolated the impact of incarceration as much as possible.

They also admit the study does not analyze the benefits of incarceration, but argue that “there is a point where the marginal cost of incarcerating an additional individual exceeds the marginal benefit.”

“If anything, we believe our study underestimates the true cost of incarceration,” McLaughlin added, because there are some costs like poor emotional health that can’t be quantified by a dollar amount.

Kristen Taketa is the night general assignment reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.