Prison advocates applaud changes to state prison visitation policies

March 20, 2019
By Shira Schoenberg

Advocates for prisoners are celebrating small changes the Department of Correction made to its prison visitation rules, even as they continue to press for far more significant shifts.

“Some may say that this is a small little change, but we think it’s incremental change that says a lot about how we can impact rehabilitation,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

The Department of Correction in March 2018 put in place strict new visitation rules, which spurred outrage – and lawsuits – from prisoners’ advocates and families.

Attorneys for prisoners filed several lawsuits challenging the visitation policy. The cases were consolidated and are pending in Suffolk Superior Court. The prisoners argue against the policy on constitutional and regulatory grounds, contending that the rules are “arbitrary and capricious.”

Correction Commissioner Thomas Turco filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a hearing on the motion is schedule for later this month.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, which represents some of the prisoners in the lawsuit (others are representing themselves), said she is happy to see the Department of Correction engaging with the Black and Latino caucus and making a positive change. Black and Latino prisoners make up 50 percent of the population in state prisons, according to a 2017 report.

Matos said it shows the department recognizes the importance of someone maintaining contact with family and friends to their rehabilitation.

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