Baker vetoes prison moratorium

Signs $5.1 billion government bond bill

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Thursday vetoed a five-year moratorium on new prison construction, citing concerns that it would constrain the state from moving forward with several planned prison improvement projects. The moratorium was included in a $5.1 billion bond bill for projects related to government operations, which Baker signed.

“These improvements require facility modifications that will require not only funding, but the allowance of discretion in how existing facilities are used – or not used,” Baker wrote in his signing letter.

Advocates for prisoners had been pushing for the moratorium, which would have frozen new construction and prison expansion projects, as a way to move the state toward incarcerating fewer people, instead focusing on community-based and therapeutic programs. There has been a particular focus on preventing the replacement of MCI-Framingham, an old and outdated women’s prison – despite a report by a consulting group hired by the state that suggested rebuilding the prison as a smaller, more therapeutic environment.

Baker officials have said they have no plans to expand the state’s prison footprint, but need flexibility to modernize prisons and adapt to the fact that the state is already incarcerating far fewer people than it did a decade ago.

In his signing letter, Baker said the state is in the midst of a two-year process of suspending housing at MCI-Cedar Junction and moving its current operations to Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. State officials are improving facilities to be able to offer medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction; relocating a clinical stabilization unit at MCI-Norfolk; improving a nursing unit at MCI-Shirley; and planning to “reimagine a rehabilitation center” at MCI-Framingham.

Baker said he worried that the language of the moratorium could impede those projects and “restrict the Department’s ability to maximize operational efficiencies, address environmental hazards in aged facilities, and meet the evolving demands of the inmate population.”

Other than a couple of small policy items, Baker signed the rest of the bond bill. He wrote in his letter that the facilities improved by the bill “will serve some of the Commonwealth’s neediest citizens, help educate our future workforce, prepare for climate change, help us meet key environmental objectives, and keep our communities and workers safe.”

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Most of the money goes directly toward building projects in government buildings, public colleges, courts, and public safety facilities. There is some money for grant programs for clean water projects, cultural facilities, and housing stabilization. There is money for state police cars, cybersecurity, technology upgrades across the government, and energy efficiency improvements, among other things.

In addition to the bond bill, Baker also signed a bill overhauling the governance structure of the Holyoke and Chelsea soldiers’ homes. Other bills he signed relate to protecting research animals, enforcing illegal hunting practices, and prohibiting first responders from taking and disseminating photos of crime victims outside of their official duties.