New visitor limits for state-run prisons

March 9, 2018
The Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

SHIRLEY — The Middlesex County sheriff sometimes physically notices inmates getting ready for family visits.

“They look forward to it, keeping themselves groomed for their families,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.

Maintaining that face-to-face connection with their families is critical for an inmates’ successful re-entry to society, the sheriff stressed.

There’s no visitor cap at the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction of Billerica, and it will stay that way.

However, visitor policies are changing at Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities across the state — a move that prisoner advocates say could lead to higher recidivism rates.

Because the average number of distinct visitors is so low, the limits are unnecessary, according to Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

“Several of them have no visitors, so you end up penalizing the folks lucky enough to have visitors on a regular basis,” she said. “It seems hurtful. A lot of people will be harmed by this.”

Visitation is one of the best predictors for successful reentry and avoiding recidivism, Walker said.

It’s very difficult to maintain family ties without regular visits, she said.

“It’s important to have a stable place to live when looking for a job after prison,” she said. “Instead of living at a shelter or on the street.”

Prisoners’ Legal Services is considering a class-action lawsuit against these new limits, according to Walker.

“We feel that this is an excessive punishment,” she said.

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