State Looks At Closing MCI-Framingham

December 17th, 2019

WGBH: All Things Considered
December 17, 2019
Arun Rath

Massachusetts is looking at the closure of the state’s main prison for women, MCI-Framingham, by 2024. The Department of Correction says the prison is in poor condition. It could shut it down and move female inmates to renovated units at an unused facility in Norfolk. Elizabeth Matos is the executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. She spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Arun Rath about the closure. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: MCI-Framingham opened in 1877. It’s undergone renovations since then, but can you just tell us what kind of shape this nearly 150-year-old prison is in?

Elizabeth Matos: It’s in pretty rough shape. We’ve heard complaints about the conditions at MCI-Framingham for a long time. There are mouse infestations. There have been repeated Department of Public Health violations. There have also been issues with cooling and heating systems, so in the winter, sometimes it’s chronically cold and in the summer, chronically too hot. And we’ve also had reports of uncleanliness and sanitation issues in the kitchens. So women have been complaining about the conditions there for a while. And one other issue, and the reason for some of the recent renovations, is there have been detections of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], and women have complained about other kind of toxins at the facility.

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Harsh prison rules punish the innocent

December 14th, 2019

The Boston Globe
December 14, 2019
Yvonne Abraham

Before, anyone could visit an inmate, as long as they passed an onsite background check. Now, only 8 or 10 designated family members and others are allowed to visit, after submitting to a pre-approval process so onerous it dissuades some from even trying. Approved designees may visit only one inmate in the system unless they receive special permission.

The new rules were meant to combat contraband in prisons, according to a Department of Correction spokesman, but did not provide data showing whether drug-smuggling is down. (There have been several cases of guards smuggling in drugs since then.)

Here’s what is down: visits across the system, by a quarter, in the first year, with one prison seeing a drop of 36 percent.

“They try to make it as awful as possible so that people don’t want to visit,” said Elizabeth Matos, head of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which has sued to overturn the new rules.

Restricting visits isn’t just inhumane, however: It compromises public safety. Studies show that inmates who maintain contact with family and friends behave better in prison, and are less likely to reoffend on the outside.

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Mansfield panel describes border conditions for immigrants and asylum seekers

November 25th, 2019

WickedLocal Mansfield
November 25, 2019
Paula Vogler

MANSFIELD – While the images of conditions at the Mexico border may have faded into the background for many people, a recent meeting sponsored by the Mansfield Democratic Town Committee sought to remind people of what is still happening to immigrants and asylum seekers there.

The number of people held in detention centers has increased under every president for more than 25 years according to Mario Paredes, a lawyer with Prisoner Legal Services and the Immigrant Detention Conditions Project.

He said while there are 220 adult immigration facilities around the country, three of those are in Massachusetts facilities in Bristol, Plymouth and Franklin counties that are run by the county sheriffs.

“Oversight is the biggest issue with detention centers,” Paredes said. “Each detention center has its own set of standards it’s supposed to be abiding by; they are not pinned down to any one set of standards.”

He said immigrants who reach out for help run the risk of assault within a facility or being moved to a different facility far away from family and friends.

While since 2009 Congress requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to step in to control any facility that fails two inspections, Paredes said since that time, no facility has failed; there is a 100 percent inspection pass rate now.

He said the Immigration Detention Conditions Project seeks to “ensure legal services for this population.” While he hears stories anecdotally, he said the group wants to collect facts.

“Right now we are making a concerted effort to collect information so down the line we can use it for advocacy,” Paredes said. “We want to provide resources for self-help as well.”

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Massachusetts Department of Correction Gives a Lesson in How to Get Around Solitary Confinement Reforms

November 20th, 2019

Solitary Watch
November 20, 2019
Katie Rose Quandt

In April 2018, advocates in Massachusetts celebrated the signing of the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), which mandated changes throughout the state’s criminal justice system. Included among the reforms were some new restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, set to go into effect at the beginning of 2019.

But advocates say that instead of following the law’s provisions in earnest, the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) has done its best to circumvent the solitary reforms and weaken the law’s oversight mechanisms.

“They’re not complying with the letter of the law in some regards, and they’re avoiding the spirit of the law in other regards,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney at Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS). Her organization is pushing back against the DOC’s weak application of the CJRA’s solitary rules, alongside other advocacy organizations and some legislators.

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The Repurposing of the American Jail

November 19th, 2019

Jails and prisons are becoming substance-abuse treatment facilities—even for those who haven’t been accused of a crime.

The Atlantic
November 19, 2019
Jessica Pishko

…correctional officials defend jail- and prison-based treatment, even in the face of controversy. Last year, Sheriff Nick Cocchi of Hampden County, Massachusetts, announced that a wing of the county jail would be reserved for Section 35 detainees. These lockups, renamed “treatment centers,” are housed inside the main jail and provide access to rehabilitative programs. But the approximately 100 people in the program are kept separate from regular jail inmates and, according to Cocchi’s office, have more freedom to move about the facility.

Judges and others have praised Cocchi’s program in Hampden County, particularly for its role helping those in rural communities where services are scarce. In addition to touting the health benefits of the program, Cocchi has repeatedly noted, as an advantage, that he has filled unused jail beds. People who enter the program stay an average of 48 days, longer than patients can stay in private facilities. And unlike in other treatment programs, those in Cocchi’s program receive assistance reintegrating into society and resolving any open arrest warrants or criminal charges. Robert Rizzuto, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said, “Unlike other facilities, we help people through each stage of the recovery process. We don’t want to leave someone to figure things out on their own.” The state has added $1 million to the program’s budget for the next fiscal year, Rizzuto said.

But public-health experts and advocates largely oppose programs such as Cocchi’s. Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts who has worked on the Section 35 lawsuit for years, told me that as prison and jail populations dwindle, officials may increasingly repurpose the space.

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