Prison superintendent cites protocols for actions

Calls Souza-Baranowski a very dangerous place

CITING PUBLIC AND CONFIDENTIAL Department of Correction protocols, the superintendent of the state’s maximum security prison said in a court hearing on Thursday that he had the authority to cut off inmate access to attorneys and legal work in the wake of an attack on four guards by a host of inmates.

The Department of Correction is being sued in Suffolk Superior Court by inmates who allege they were improperly denied access to their lawyers after a lockdown of the facility on January 10 following the attack on the correctional officers. Citing a “coordinated effort by gangs” and a concern about inmates taking hostages, officials say the entire prison was put on lockdown, all visits were prohibited, and cells were swept for potential weapons and contraband.

Victoria Kelleher, an attorney for the inmate plaintiffs, asked Stephen Kenneway, superintendent of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility, whether department policy allowed him to suspend attorney visits.

Yes,” he replied. “This is my right to do so.”

Kenneway indicated two policies come into play in the case of emergencies: a public protocol that clearly spells out that he can suspend attorney visits as well as a confidential protocol, referred to as a disorder policy. Superior Court Judge Beverly Cannon, who heard the case, will decide if the private policy becomes public record.

Kenneway said the January 10 attacks on correctional officers were particularly alarming. “I’ve never seen assaults like that in my 31 years [working for the DOC],” he said. He described the inmate attacks as a situation where he was concerned the fights would “bleed out” into other units.

The superintendent described Souza as very dangerous, with 600 serious reported incidents in the past year, including stabbings, arson, 300 assaults, and 240 self-injuries. He also said 87 assaults were reported on staff members in the past year. Kenneway described the self-injuries as “those inmates who tried to cut up or commit suicide.” Since he began working in his position last year, Kenneway said, four lockdowns have occurred at Souza, although he said he didn’t recall the length of each lockdown. But the threats to guards, he said, and to prison administration, continue. “I was threatened to be stabbed in the neck,” said Kenneway.

Hallway by cells at Souza Baranowki during unrest in 2017. (Photo by Department of Correction)

Pressed by Kelleher for details on the confidential disorder policy, an attorney for the Department of Correction said that it’s a “private policy she would be happy to share with the court,” but was not comfortable giving it to attorneys for the inmates.

“We can’t let that information out so an inmate can escape from the facility,” the attorney said.

After the hearing, Kelleher said she had grave concerns about the “secret policy,” saying the superintendent seemed to be relying heavily on that protocol to limit attorney access to clients for an extended period of time. “I have huge problems with that. I think it’s totally illegal,” she said.

Kenneway said he allowed noncontact attorney visits to resume on January 17. He said the visits were again suspended from January 21-24, while a search of inmates was conducted by a special operations tactical team.

Legal documents in cells were seized during a contraband search on January 21, Kenneway said. Kenneway said legal documents have since been returned to all inmates, but evidence was presented, including emails he received himself from an inmate attorney, that some inmates with pending cases still did not have access to their legal documents. Some attorneys say some of the legal paperwork is missing.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

In the original inmate complaint, one prisoner, Robert Silva-Prentice, alleged that more than 10 tactical officers used stun guns to beat him and his cellmate in an unprovoked attack, after which they were denied calls to their attorneys and access to their legal paperwork. He was eventually allowed to see his attorney, Kathryn Karczewska Ohren, on January 29. Silva-Prentice was present in court on Thursday but did not get a chance to testify before the hearing ended.

Proceedings will continue next week as Carrone hopes to hear from the prisoners who filed the complaint.