New rules on solitary confinement coming under fire

Less than a year ago, Gov. Charlie Baker signed two comprehensive criminal justice bills that were the result of a marathon of bipartisan discussions over many years.

The laws contained a bucket list of reforms targeting tough-on-crime policies from decades ago. One part of the package eliminated some mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, while another raised the minimum age a child could be held criminally responsible and be tried in juvenile court from seven to 12. Judges were required to take into account a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail, a new mandatory minimum sentence was created for assault and battery on a police officer, and a “fentanyl fix” was approved allowing law enforcement to go after traffickers of the drug.

One specific section of the legislation placed restrictions on the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, requiring periodic hearings to determine if inmates in segregation should remain there.

The Department of Corrections is writing new rules to adhere to the law, which also keeps pregnant women and inmates with “serious mental illness” out of segregation (even though they can technically be held there for 72 hours).

But advocates say the agency’s new rules don’t go far enough. At a public hearing on Tuesday, MassLive’s Shira Schoenberg reported that former inmates testified in front of Department of Corrections officials on the impact of solitary confinement. They said they contended with black mold, extreme cold, and guards who allegedly did “nasty stuff” to their food.

Nicholas Gomes, who spent 30 years in prison, said inmates get sent to solitary confinement for virtually any reason and the repeated use of segregation has terrible long-term consequences. “You think they’re going to come out of that room and come to your community and help your grandmother across the street?” Gomes asked. “No, that’s not going to happen. You’re creating monsters.”

Solitary confinement is now defined in Massachusetts as a space where an inmate is confined to a cell for 22 hours a day. The new law allows for certain visitation rights, showers three times a week, and periodic reviews of the inmate’s housing status.

What worries advocates for prison reform is that two new types of housing are being created, one called the “secure adjustment unit” and the other the “secure treatment unit,” where inmates, including those with mental illness, will be held for 21 hours a day.

The advocates say these units would be exempt from the criminal justice law’s protections. They want the Department of Corrections to reserve solitary confinement for extreme violent offenses.

“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.

While the DOC didn’t comment to MassLive, one of the leaders of the state Senate’s reform efforts did. Sen. Will Brownsberger says an independent oversight commission created by the law will keep tabs on what is going on.

“I’m initially trusting that those oversight mechanisms will do what we intended,” Brownsberger said.

 –SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

Lawmakers file bills to address congestion at the Sumner Tunnel, but the impact is much wider. The bills would test congestion pricing at the tunnel, but also impose sharply higher fees on ride-hailing apps. Uber says the fees envisioned by the legislation would be the highest in the nation. (State House News)

Senate President Karen Spilka said in a brief interview that she thinks the appointment of Sen. Jason Lewis as co-chair of the Education Committee (replacing Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston) will improve the odds for passage of an education funding bill. Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Boston, the longest-serving member in the House, said many of last week’s appointments in both chambers reflected a focus on results over rhetoric. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

As rents soar in Boston, evictions are occurring at a pace of 43 a day. (Boston Globe via New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

Cape Cod Commissioner Ron Beaty tweeted a question asking whether gays are too self-absorbed and self-centered to represent all of their constituents. In an area represented by an openly gay state senator and representative, the comments set off an uproar (Cape Cod Times)

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II now says he will pay back investors who lost money investing in his company as long as they agree to release him from any civil claims. The shift by Correia comes three weeks before he faces a recall election. (Boston Herald)

Residents in Dorchester’s Meetinghouse Hill banded together to object to a house that once belonged to Charlotte Golar-Richie, a former state representative, from being converted into a sober home. (WBUR)

After 63 years of marriage, a husband and wife in Holden died within hours of each other. (MetroWest Daily News)

A snowplow driver who allegedly targeted demonstrators in Falmouth and sprayed them with his truck as they protested President Donald Trump’s national emergency is facing charges. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Washington Post re-examines the only successful coup in the US, when in 1898 a band of white supremacists in Wilmington, North Carolina, massacred black Americans to overthrow the city’s multi-racial government.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the Office of Government Ethics that he had sold roughly $3,700 in stock in BankUnited, but he hadn’t. Ross said the misreporting was a mistake and he subsequently sold the shares. (Washington Post)

Lawmakers in New York and Pennsylvania show how to go about raising their own salaries. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

California US Sen. Kamala Harris visited New Hampshire on her presidential campaign Tuesday, casting herself as a truth-teller with a positive message for the country. (WGBH)

Ahead of an election that will potentially replace him, Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II wants to repay lenders he is accused of criminally defrauding, but with a catch. (Boston Herald)

Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham says Harris is definitely “black enough.”

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Developers in the Boston area are trying to recreate the economic magic of Kendall Square in new locations, but it’s unclear whether the formula can be duplicated. (Boston Globe) Harvard University clearly has Kendall on its mind as it prepares to develop Allston Landing — prime real estate, close to Kendall, and adjacent to one of the world’s leading universities. (CommonWealth)

A developer trying to get a large stalled project off the ground in Weymouth was approved to receive a break of ten years of no property taxes by the town council. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Hampshire College in Amherst laid off nine staff members in the admissions department, which makes sense because the school is not recruiting a freshman class for next year because of uncertainty about its future. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A girl from Middlesex County is the third pediatric flu death in Massachusetts this season, following the deaths of a boy from Milford and a girl from Framingham, according to the Department of Public Health. (Associated Press)

BayState Health and US HealthVest propose a behavioral health hospital at former Holyoke facility. (MassLive)

Patrick Wardell, the CEO of Cambridge Health Alliance, is retiring this summer. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

Ronni Baer of the Museum of Fine Arts is leaving to take a post at Princeton University. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Eversource is making a major investment in solar power. (Berkshire Eagle)

Former state representative Stephen Kulik says efforts to fight climate change should take into account the special challenges faced by rural areas. (CommonWealth)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial calls for reining in the Green New Deal.

CASINOS

The tribes that run casinos in Connecticut won a partial victory in court when a judge agreed to let them challenge an Interior Department action that blocked them from building a new casino in East Windsor, Connecticut, to compete against MGM Springfield. (The Day)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Cindy King, the vice chairwoman of the Townsend Board of Selectmen, allegedly attacked her wife on Saturday night and then warned responding police officers that she holds the town government office and they’ll “be sorry.” (Lowell Sun)

The State Police are again facing scrutiny for improperly disposing of two handguns seized at the airport from passengers. (Boston Globe)

Two Lawrence parents were ordered held in custody pending a dangerousness hearing after their 1-year-old daughter put a fentanyl pill in her mouth. She is expected to recover from exposure to the dangerous opioid. (Eagle-Tribune)

A 43-year-old Lynn man was charged with smuggling more than an ounce of fentanyl into the Middleton Jail. (Salem News)

MEDIA

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says it may be time for the court to revisit the precedent set in the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan decision on libel. (New York Times)

CNN, which is often derided by President Trump, hired Republican operative Sarah Isgur as its political editor to help coordinate coverage for the 2020 election. Isgur, who has no journalism experience, most recently was a spokesman for the Justice Department under former attorney general Jeff Sessions. (Politico)

The parents of a Covington Catholic High School student involved in an encounter with a Native American activist that went viral and became highly contentious have sued the Washington Post for defamation, alleging that the newspaper’s coverage was designed to embarrass President Donald Trump. (Washington Post)