Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts Statement on its newly released Women’s Project Report and the Ripples Report

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts Statement on its newly released Women’s Project Report and the Ripples Report

The Women’s Incarceration Conditions and Reentry Project (The Women’s Project) of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS) interviewed and anonymously surveyed over two dozen women incarcerated throughout Massachusetts and has published A Different Way Forward: Stories from Incarcerated Women in Massachusetts and Recommendations. This report details the stories and experiences incarcerated women in the Commonwealth shared regarding violence and trauma, mental health, and identity-based discrimination and makes specific recommendations to invest in people and communities, not prisons and jails. 

In contrast, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) recently released a report, written by the consulting firm, Ripples Group, called Strategic Plan for Women Who Are Incarcerated in Massachusetts (the Ripples Report). This report calls for the construction of a $40 million-dollar Massachusetts Department of Correction-(DOC)-run “rehabilitation center” in response to the trauma incarcerated women experience in their lives. This “rehabilitation center” is simply a prison by another name.   

Violence and trauma are inextricably linked with incarceration. The very act of placing a person behind bars is harmful, and the surveillance inherent to incarceration is traumatic. There is no form of prison, jail, or system of incarceration—including a so-called “rehabilitation center”—that will truly be responsive to the trauma women undergo in their lives. To adequately respond to and remedy the harm women face , we must reduce reliance on punishment, and shift resources to community based systems of care that are equipped to support human dignity. PLS’s Women’s Project recommends the following actions to respond to trauma women face in criminal and carceral systems: 

  1. Establish independent oversight. The fact that incarcerated women face retaliation when they report sexual misconduct and other misconduct by officers is evidence that the prison system often operates with impunity and that DOC cannot effectively oversee itself and hold itself accountable. We must establish an independent oversight body that will increase accountability and transparency without increasing the footprint of our carceral system. 
  1. Decarcerate. Release women from prisons and jails using parole, medical parole, clemency, ending pre-trial confinement, ending cash bail, and ending life without parole sentencing.  
  1. Facilitate women’s reentry. Women released from prisons and jails will need resources to smoothly reintegrate into their communities and avoid becoming reincarcerated, so funding reentry resources created by formerly incarcerated women is critical. It is also important to facilitate reentry on a human level, meaning that communities must come together in solidarity to support women reentering and facilitate healing.    
  1. Reduce reliance on incarceration. Multiple legal mechanisms exist to divert women away from incarceration but are currently under-utilized. The Commonwealth could also adopt policies and change funding streams to reduce people’s contact with police, and to discourage needless arrest and prosecution. 
  1. Fund communities and community responses to harm. Underfunding community resources, like education, housing, social services, substance use treatment, and mental health care, is a root cause of harm and behaviors penalized through incarceration. Responding with incarceration furthers that harm, rather than alleviating it. Instead, the Commonwealth should fund communities to prevent harm, and fund community responses to harm rooted in restorative and transformative justice principles for when harm does happen.   

MCI-Framingham is the oldest women’s prison in the United States and nothing impedes the DOC from properly maintaining, improving or repairing the facility. The Ripples Report recommends that the Commonwealth remedy this through building a $40 million new women’s prison. This is the wrong solution because prisons produce more harm and trauma. Therefore, the idea of a trauma-informed prison is inherently contradictory, and any new prison built today will become a site of neglect, environmental degradation, and toxicity in the future. MCI-F was built in the name of reform, rehabilitation, and protection for women and now Ripples recommends that we build another prison for the same reasons, and expects to have different results. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past and attempt to build our way out of the harms that prison causes. Families for Justice as Healing has been leading the movement for the passage of S.2030/H.1905: An Act establishing a jail and prison construction moratorium (the moratorium bill). This bill would place a five-year pause on prison and jail construction and expansion, without impacting the Commonwealth’s ability to make repairs to prisons and jails. PLS urges the state legislature to pass the stronger house version of the moratorium bill. Massachusetts needs a five year pause to focus on releasing women and implementing existing alternatives to incarceration so that we can find a better way forward together.   

For more details regarding these issues and recommendations, please read the full report, A Different Way Forward: Stories from Incarcerated Women in Massachusetts and Recommendations.