The criminal justice reform law that the Legislature passed last year contains reforms to the state’s solitary confinement system meant to provide inmates with better living conditions, limit the length of time someone can be held without review, and keep mentally ill inmates out of solitary confinement. The Department of Correction is writing new rules to abide by the law.
But prisoners’ advocates say the department’s draft rules fall short of the reform envisioned by the Legislature and essentially let the department continue its current practices in slightly different form.
“Unfortunately, these regulations make clear that instead of seizing the opportunity, the DOC intends to bring itself into technical compliance with the letter of the law while subverting the intention of the law and continuing to rely on solitary confinement as a lynchpin of its management practices,” said Jesse White, staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts.
Prisoners’ Legal Services, in written testimony cosigned by the ACLU of Massachusetts and other criminal justice reform advocates, said the department is undermining the intent of the law by creating new units that would give prisoners an extra hour out of their cell, but be exempt from the law’s protections. “It is counterproductive and harmful for people to be locked in a cage for 22 or even 21 hours a day,” the groups wrote.