Tag Archives: Massashusetts

Baker undermining solitary confinement reform

By Margaret Monsell  

Last year’s criminal justice reform law tried to nudge the state toward a more humane policy on solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails by adding due process protections for all prisoners confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day and creating a 12-member Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee consisting of mental health and social work professionals as well as corrections personnel to conduct an annual study of solitary confinement practices, including recommendations on ways to minimize its use. 

The Baker administration, deeply unenthusiastic about this initiative, is using the regulatory process to throttle it.  In March, the Department of Correction sidestepped the new due process protections by way of regulations confining some prisoners to their cells for 21 hours a day instead of the 22 hours referenced in the statute. Problem largely solved.  

And in mid-June, the Department of Correction issued regulations governing the Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee that will certainly impair its ability to carry out its mission. Despite statutory language giving committee members “access to all correctional institutions,” the regulations require advance approval from the institution superintendent before any visit, prohibit a quorum or more of committee members from visiting the same institution at the same time, and apply all the rules governing visitation generally to committee members as well, making them, for example, subject to searches for weapons and contraband and to having their visits terminated at the discretion of corrections staff.

The committee must also obtain a written release from every inmate before reviewing any medical, criminal history, or other information the institution has about that inmate. While this requirement may serve the inmates’ privacy interests, it also provides corrections staff with a list of the inmates who have cooperated with the committee’s inquiries, intelligence that inmates might reasonably believe would lead to retaliatory punishment.    

In addition to these constraints on the ability of committee members to gather information, the regulations also forbid them from making “any statement(s) to the public or the press about any matters pending before the Committee, unless approved by the Chair of the Committee to do so” (the chair of the committee is the governor’s secretary of public safety). 

What constitutes a “matter pending before the Committee” remains undefined in the regulations, but presumably it includes the subjects the committee is required to address in its annual report, such as the criteria for placing an inmate in restrictive housing and the effect of restrictive housing on prison safety. In the absence of the chair’s approval, members would be unable to share their experiences and findings with anyone, including the Legislature, which established the committee for the purpose of its own edification. 

The Department of Correction put these regulations forward on an emergency basis, which means that they’re effective immediately and that the agency may dispense with the usual period between the announcement of a proposed new regulation and its adoption, during which time it is required to receive and consider public comments. (The solitary confinement regulations issued in March were also emergency regulations).

 Although they’re effective immediately, emergency regulations are of limited duration. These expire at the end of August. Maybe before then, the Legislature, the public, and the press can convince the Baker administration that, unlike these emergency regulations, permanent ones must reflect the fact that solitary confinement policy is not exclusively an executive branch prerogative. 

Margaret Monsell is an attorney practicing in the Boston area.

Action you can take to influence the Judiciary Committee

The Judiciary Committee is now evaluating bills to reform the Commonwealth’s judicial and correctional systems. YOU CAN INFLUENCE this process in several ways.

1. Pledge to attend the June 9 hearing, 1 pm at the Gardner Auditorium of the Statehouse to show support for reform. Sign up here or show up at 12:45 pm at the Statehouse.

2. Print out multiple copies of this action letter. Invite others to sign individual letters. Mail them to EMIT, C/o Susan Tordella, 5 Hedgeway St. Ayer, MA 01432. EMIT will deliver them in person to the Judiciary Committee members. Or deliver the letters in person to Judiciary Committee members.

3.Call or email members of the Judiciary Committee and encourage other voters to do the same,  to encourage legislators to support criminal justice reform, especially the bills in the action letter

Here are the Judiciary Committee members, positions and contact information.

The legislators with NONE beside their names really need to hear that we support reform. 

Key (bills Sponsored -SP or Co-sponsored):
MM:    End Mandatory Minimums
PT:      Pre-Trial and Bail Reform
Just:   Justice Reinvestment Act
Care:   Caretaker Act
Exp:    Expungement
RJ:      Restorative Justice
Extra:  Extraordinary Medical Release

William Brownsberger, D-Belmont – Chair    617-722-1280  William.brownsberger@masenate.gov
MM, Just, Exp, RJ,
Sen. John Keenen, D-Quincy – Vice Chair NONE   617-722-1494     john.keenan@masenate.gov
Sonia Chang Diaz, D-Boston           617-722-1673     sonia.change-diaz@masenate.gov
PT, MM, Just -SP
Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville         617-722-1578     patricia.jehlen@masenate.gov
PT, MM, Care-SP, Exp, RJ, Extra -SP
Cynthia Creem, D-Newton               617-722-1639     cynthia.creem@masenate.gov
MM- SP, Just
Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham             NONE   617-722-1555     richard.ross@masenate.gov
Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford- Chair   NONE     617-722-2396     john.fernandes@mahouse.gov
Claire Cronin, D-Easton – Vice Chair                       617-722-2396     claire.cronin@mahouse.gov
PT, MM, Just, RJ Extra
Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut    NONE       617-722-2380     colleen.garry@mahouse.gov
Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield     NONE       617-722-2582     john.vellis@mahouse.gov
Michael Day, D-Winchester                        617-722-2582     michael.day@mahouse.gov
MM, RJ
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem          NONE          617-722-2400     paul.tucker@mahouse.gov
Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover    NONE          617-722-2450     james.lyons@mahouse.gov
Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin                     617-722-2020     jeffrey.roy@mahouse.gov
Pre-Trial, MM, RJ
Evandro Carvalho, D-Dorchester      617-722-2460     evandro.carvalho@mahouse.gov
MM, Just
Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield         617-722-2080     carlos.gonzalez@mahouse.gov
PT, MM, Just, Care
Sheila Harrington, R-Groton              617-722-2305     shiela.harrington@mahouse.gov
PT