Restrictive state prison visitation policies spur outrage, lawsuits

June 30, 2018
By Shira Schoenberg

Lucinda Fisher’s son is in maximum security prison.

Under new regulations that went into effect in March, her son is only allowed to put five people on his list of approved visitors. He can update the list every six months.

“I have a huge family, my son has siblings,” Fisher said.

Fisher looked at Department of Correction officials at a public hearing in Boston on Thursday. “Can either of you pick five people you deal with on a regular basis for six months?” she asked. “Can you narrow it down to five? Can Governor Baker narrow it down to five?”

The new policies, Fisher said, seem to be “geared toward breaking the families, breaking the inmates.”

The Department of Correction’s new visiting procedures were launched earlier this year, spurring outrage among prisoners, family members and their advocates – and prompting four separate lawsuits, which are pending.

The advocates say the new visitation policies make it harder for inmates to maintain relationships with their families and friends and make it less likely they will be able to successfully reintegrate into the community.

“The evidence supports that efforts should be made to make visitation more open and more accessible wherever possible,” said Jesse White, staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. “Over the last year, DOC has been moving in the wrong direction on visitation, substantially restricting and reducing visitation without any rational basis.”

According to Prisoners’ Legal Services, Massachusetts is now one of the most restrictive states in the country with regard to visitation.

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