Corrections union pulls criminal justice law into Souza brawl debate

The union representing prison corrections officers is pointing to the state’s massive criminal justice reform bill, enacted in 2018, as the cause of violence at the state’s maximum security prison, which is entering day five of lockdown after three corrections officers were hospitalized in a prison brawl.

“This is a direct result from the recently enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act legislation, which was promulgated by inmate rights groups and activists,” wrote Guy Glodis, spokesman for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union.

The Department of Correction says a guard at MCI-Souza-Baranowski in Shirley was surrounded and attacked by inmates on Friday morning, suffering head injuries. Two other responding officers were also injured.

One of the guards remains hospitalized, and the union said injuries included broken jaw and head trauma. WCVB has shown surveillance video, released through the Department of Correction, showing one officer being jumped.

Lizz Matos, of the advocacy group Prisoners’ Legal Services, fired back that the legislation had no influence on the incident, calling the insinuation “wrong and irresponsible,” and “damaging.” She added that the reforms have barely been implemented by the Department of Correction at Souza.

“To start, the DOC has been very resistant to implementing the law, and conditions for prisoners in SBCC (Souza) have not changed significantly since its passage,” she wrote in a statement. “MCOFU [the union] complains that limiting the use of solitary confinement and increasing programming directly inspires and encourages violence against staff.”

The bill includes reforms aimed at reducing solitary confinement stays in prisons along with a slew of other initiatives like diversion programs for low-level offenders and expungement for some offenses if the perpetrator was under 21.

The corrections officers’ union claims that attacks on staff are up 150 percent in the past year at the Shirley prison, which houses more than 1,000 inmates.

Glodis says the law gives inmates more rights, freedom, housing, and tier time to plan violent attacks. “This allowed inmates to manipulate the system and engage in violent action, increase gang activity, intimidation and assaults on officers and other inmates,” he says.

He told the Boston Herald requiring that people in solitary confinement be allowed more time out of their cells means that there must be more oversight by guards.

But last winter, former prisoners and prisoner advocates testified on Beacon Hill that the new law doesn’t do much for most inmates that go to solitary confinement, and that the Department of Correction should reserve the punishment only for extreme violence offenses.

Several outlets are reporting that the attacks were carried out by members of the Latin Kings gang, a group that Massachusetts jail administrators are trying to break up, according to an expose by MassLive’s Steph Solis.

The Worcester District Attorney’s Office and Massachusetts State Police are investigating the incident. Six inmates were removed from the unit over the weekend and face discipline. During lockdown, visits to inmates are restricted, and they’re often limited to their units.

The situation drew the attention of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov.  Karyn Polito, who on Sunday visited the hospitalized officers, and posted about it later on Twitter.

Souza is no stranger to violence. In August, five guards were injured, with four hospitalized while the prison was on lockdown. In 2017, 15 prisoners were indicted on several charges in connection to a riot where a housing unit was destroyed with makeshift weapons.

Easton state Rep. Claire Cronin, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee and helped write the Criminal Justice Reform Act, expressed her concern for the injured officers.

“I have reached out to the correction officers union,” Cronin said. “This matter should be properly investigated to unearth all facts contributing to the unprovoked attack on our correctional officers. The investigation should include a thorough review of the circumstances leading up to the attack.”

Prisoners’ Legal Services and the union have said they welcome meeting with state legislators about the incident and discussing what it means for the safety of the prison.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

Although state officials say they are doing a great job spreading construction work to minority contractors, WGBH reports that the amount of money going to them is less today than it was 20 years ago.

Janet Mills, the Democratic governor of Maine, is the latest Northeast governor to express doubts about the Transportation Climate Initiative being pushed by Gov. Charlie Baker. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Globe profiles Julia Mejia and her improbable rise to become a Boston city councilor. CommonWealth did the same last month following an impromptu interview with Mejia during a Red Line ride from Dorchester to downtown Boston.

The Enterprise takes a look at how the Brockton Police Department is operating following Chief John Crowley’s health leave.

The Springfield City Council is preparing to pass a motion asking TD Bank to keep its Mason Square branch open. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

It looks like a Russian hacking operation may be trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

The rift between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren showed no signs of closing, as Warren said her liberal rival told her in a 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. Sanders’s campaign says that never happened. (Boston Globe)

A new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald-NBC10 Boston poll shows Joe Biden with a small lead among likely New Hampshire primary voters. (Boston Herald)

Deval Patrick is still looking for a foothold in the Democratic race. (Boston Globe)

Somerville Rep. Denise Provost says she won’t be seeking reelection. (Wicked Local Somerville)

IMMIGRATION

The Boston immigration court appears to be more welcoming than most other courts around the country, approving 58 percent of asylum requests. (CommonWealth)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Flash one finger (maybe a heave-ho thumb?) if you think Alex Cora’s days as the Red Sox manager may be numbered. (Boston Globe)

New Bedford City Council approved its fourth recreational pot host agreement, approving an amendment to Beacon Compassion Inc.’s existing Host Community Agreement for medical marijuana, which would permit them to sell adult-use or recreational products as well. (Standard-Times) 

David Rabinovitz, CEO of NewCann Group, and George Washington Hightower of Elevated Green Health write about how a dash for marijuana host community agreements has created a windfall for landlords. (DigBoston) 

EDUCATION

Ben Forman of MassINC has five ideas for generating better school district improvement plans under the new Student Opportunity Act. (CommonWealth)

Richard Doherty, the head of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, says new regulations on college closures are badly needed. (CommonWealth)

With charges of a toxic leadership culture and lots of people heading for the exits during her tenure, the Harvard School of Public Health is in upheaval over the reign of Dean Michelle Williams. (The Harvard Crimson)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Brookline health care think tank says we’re overloading older Americans with prescription drugs. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION 

The MBTA is $25 million behind on a union contract pledge to spend $25 million a year upgrading the transit authority bus maintenance garages. (CommonWealth)

T notes: Fiscal and Management Control Board calls for its successor board to meet less than half as much…New Orange Line trains are coming….And a Duxbury advocate for more off-peak commuter rail service at lower prices. (CommonWealth)

The dockless bike-sharing company Lime Bikes will continue operating in Quincy, but did not renew its contract with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which means the bikes will soon vanish from some suburbs around Boston. (Patriot Ledger)

The Dartmouth Planning Board has given site plan approval to the town’s proposal to expand Memorial Stadium parking. (Standard-Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

After years of paying nothing to the Springfield Materials Recycling Center to dispose of recyclables, a bunch of western Massachusetts communities will soon start paying at least $1.6 million a year. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

An advocacy group says it will appeal a recent court ruling that terminally-ill patients don’t have a right to obtain lethal doses of medicine to use to end their lives. (Boston Globe)

The US Supreme Court declined to review the case of Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the suicide Conrad Roy. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig is suing The New York Times, alleging it published “false and defamatory” claims that he defended MIT’s receipt of donations from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. (The Hill)