Fighting To End Solitary Confinement

March 24th, 2016

Interview by Jim Braude with Lizz Matos and Benito Vega
WGBH Greater Boston
March 23, 2016

A group of local criminal justice reformers has organized a Week of Action on Solitary Confinement to raise awareness of what they consider the cruelty of the practice which 80 to 100 thousand Americans experience every day. As part of the effort, a play on the issue is premiering Wednesday night at Boston University. It’s called Mariposa and the Saint and tells the true story of a woman locked in solitary confinement for nearly three years. all through the letters Mariposa exchanged with the playwright. It’s a timely play, as Massachusetts legislators are considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary in state prisons.

Prisoners’ Legal Services Attorney, Lizz Matos, and solitary survivor Benito Vega joined Jim to discuss solitary confinement. Read more here and see the full interview below.

The Deplorable State Of Solitary Confinement In Massachusetts

February 23rd, 2016

By Bonnie Tenneriello and Daniel Medwed
February 22, 2016

In late January, President Obama announced historic changes in how the federal prison system uses solitary confinement—or “segregation” as it is euphemistically called within Massachusetts’ prison system. He cited research showing that the practice can lead to “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.” Solitary confinement, he said, “doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.” The reforms stem from a Department of Justice (DOJ) study that sets forth best practices for correctional facilities in general, and made specific recommendations for the federal Bureau of Prisons.

President Obama acted at the federal level, but he does not stand alone. States across the country have reduced their reliance on solitary confinement—and in the process improved the prison climate and inmates’ prospects for re-entering successfully into their communities. Yet Massachusetts has stood on the sidelines, failing to reform its use of disciplinary segregation (punishment for violating prison rules) or administrative segregation (removal from the general population for non-disciplinary reasons). While many think only the “worst of the worst” are in solitary, in fact mentally ill prisoners are often sent there for non-violent offenses such as refusing a direct order or disruptive conduct.

Indeed, Massachusetts is one of a handful of states with disciplinary segregation sentences of up to ten years per offense. That’s up to ten years in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit (DDU), a prison within a prison, in a cell the size of a parking space, with only five hours a week out of your cell in a small outdoor cage that looks like a dog run. No rehabilitative programs and no hope of early release, no matter how well you behave. Conditions are just as harsh for the hundreds of state and county prisoners held in “administrative segregation.” They may be the victim of a rape, waiting for an out of state transfer, under investigation, or in danger from other prisoners.

What can be done to change this state of affairs? It’s actually not too complicated. The DOJ report provides a roadmap, and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts recently wrote a letter to Governor Charlie Baker outlining concrete next steps – Read about them here.

Prison inmates will shovel snow at T stations again this winter

January 21st, 2016

By Adam Vaccaro
January 21, 2016

Prison inmates will once again help shovel snow at T stations this winter to help keep the city moving after major storms.

Inmates will clear mounds of snow from parking lots, sidewalks and station entrances and exits as part of an agreement forged between transit officials and the state’s Department of Corrections.

Leslie Walker, the executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said the typical prisoner wage is “a ridiculously low amount, and it doesn’t really teach you more about budgeting or any of the skills you need for re-entry.”

But Walker said she would expect inmates to be enthusiastic about the voluntary work program should snowfall call them into duty this year.

“Idleness is one of the biggest problems in prison, and prisoners are eager to work and get the meager compensation they receive,” she said.

Read more…

Health and safety audits find hundreds of violations at Western Massachusetts county jails

January 20th, 2016

By Shira Schoenberg
January 20, 2016

The most recent Department of Public Health audits of county jails in Worcester, Hampden, Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties found hundreds of health and safety violations. The number of repeat violations ranged from a low of 90 in Hampshire County, a jail with 234 inmates the day of the inspection, to a high of262 repeat violations in Worcester County, which serves around 1,100 inmates daily.

Advocates for prisoners say they are not surprised at the high numbers of violations. Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said her organization often gets calls from prisoners complaining about cleanliness and conditions at jails, from excessive heat in the summer to outbreaks of disease.

Walker said Prisoners’ Legal Services reports violations to the Department of Public Health and the jails. Sometimes, she said, issues are resolved; other times, they are not. “It’s pretty catch as catch can,” Walker said. “We talk to the superintendent, they assure us it’s on the to do list. Sometimes it gets done, sometimes it doesn’t.”

As with any public project, the Legislature must appropriate money for capital spending – which can be difficult in tight budget years. Walker said she has heard jail officials say they need more money to make major repairs. But, she argues, some of the funding is political.

“There may not be enough money to fix everything that needs to be fixed, but there is enough money to satisfy the guards’ unions,” Walker said.

Walker thinks there should be better enforcement of the health codes. “I don’t think there’s any strong enforcement mechanism if a facility says ‘We don’t have enough money, we’re doing our best,'” Walker said.

Read more…

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