May 11, 2017

Massachusetts Prisons: Abuse Is Nothing New

by Timothy J. Muise (author's profile)


Peace continued

for later."

there's been wedding cake under pillows
and also children's teeth.

we should be saving it all for later;
trading away sweetness
for yet another chance.

no, I don't want my piece
of the pie.

Massachusetts Prisons:
Abuse Is Nothing New
Timothy Muise, SBCC

Guard upon prisoner abuse is nothing new here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Recently it has been brought into the spotlight by the rape and sexual abuse of female prisoners in Suffolk County, the killing of defrocked priest John Geoghan in Shirley, and the recent murder of a prisoner at Bridgewater State Hospital. Some of the afore mentioned abuses were directly at the hands of guards and some of the others a bit more indirectly, but rest assured that in more instances that not, the underlying cause of these violent acts is the attitude and ineptness of prison guards.
The newspapers have run stories detailing our Governor's "Crack" Commission, that was put together to look into these instances of abuse. Even after the release of the "Harshbarger Report", which detailed the recommendations of the Commission, and with the new Commissioner of Corrections, Kathleen Dennehy's plans for an extensive overhaul of the system, the unfortunate and tragic incident at the Bridgewater facility still occurred. A dangerous prisoner was housed with less dangerous prisoners and he committed an act which resulted in the death of one of the less dangerous. The violent perpetrator must certainly bear responsibility, but responsibility must also fall on the shoulders of those charged with these prisoners care.
The attitude of indifference toward prisoner safety that permeates the ranks of the prison guards plays a major role in these violent incidents. The guards look upon prisoners as something less than human, and in some cases, actually take joy in the suffering of those in their charge. Prisoners being treated like animals go a long way in assuring they act like animals. The ironic part of all this is that this violent acting out on the part of the prisoners, sparked by guard abuse, works in those guards' favour as they use these incidents to make a case that they are understaffed.
Each time there is an incident in our prison system, the guard's union representative, Steve Kenneway, uses it to tout his job protecting and self-serving fantasy of understaffing. His claims could not be further from the truth. The Massachusetts prison system has one of the highest guard-per-prisoner rates in the nation. The guards here are also among the highest paid (they are in the top 3 in the country), and have excellent benefits compared to most systems.
Our Governor has recognized that the guards have long been abusing the amounts of days off in which they take, and has vowed to put an end to such. In response, the guard's union dragged their feet, even more usual, in their duties, causing such delays in prison operations that time allotments forced the cancellation of prisoner activities. The plan behind this was to spark a revolt or riot, which would lend false legitimacy to the union's claims of understaffing.
Fortunately, the union's perverse plan never came to fruition.
The guards have also been engaged in waging some wars against each other. Guards who followed orders to attend the Democratic National Convention, as part of the security force there, had their cars keyed in prison parking lots by other guards. The reasons was that the union was against following this order from the new, and, in their opinion, "enemy", Commissioner. The Boston Globe even reported that Commissioner Dennehy feared the guards were going to retaliate against her at her home, as threats of such had been brought to her attention. Such over-the-top anger on the part of the guards toward her planned reforms is a glaring and undeniable sigh of the root of the problems in the system. It is almost surreal that a commissioner would express fear of her home sanctity being violated by her subordinates.
The situation is serious. The guards are angry at the administration. They cowardly vent this anger toward the prisoners with whose care they are charged. Recently at the maximum security facility in Shirley, some guards were demoted and transferred, and one fired, for false reports filed surrounding the beating of a prisoner. Rather than being angered at the foolishness of the guards and supervisory officers who filed these reports, or at the guards who beat the handcuffed prisoner, the guards as a group, chose to blame the prisoner population. The proper place for the blame should be upon the shoulders of those guards who perpetuate the climate under which all guards are seen in abusive light. Anger vented toward prisoners for mere sport creates an animalistic attitude in these men and women who will someday be returning to our cities and towns.
This counter to the guard's sworn duty to protect public safety. The fact is that today's Massachusetts prison guards make Massachusetts less safe.
What can be done to change this situation? The fact must be faced that nothing short of a total restructuring of the system must take place. The training academy, which guards attend, must teach care, custody, and control, with a focus on compassion for the him condition and the application of progressive corrections philosophies. These intended caretakers, not punishers, must be trained in the importance of putting forth an honest effort to rehabilitate. The attitude of punishment for punishments' sake has proven too costly, both economically and morally. The system must forward with modern times. Realistic programming, which addresses societal re-entry issues, must be made available to all prisoners. The classification system must be revamped to allow the vast majority of appropriate prisoners to move to lower security situations where they can secure jobs, housing, and support systems before they exit the prison system. The administration, supervisory staff, and rank and file all must be on board to initiate such.
The bureaucrats have started to speak of change, but the sad fact veiled effort to show they are putting new policies in place. The truth is we are no better off that when women were raped and impregnated in Suffolk County, when known violent and mentally ill prisoner, Joseph Druce strangled and beat to death the frail, elderly, defrocked priest John Geoghan mere feet from the guard's station, or when one known violence risk prisoner being evaluated for possible mental defects murdered another yet-to-be-convicted prisoner at the Bridgewater State Hospital. Real change must be initiated at once. If a clean sweep needs to be made then so be it. The change needs to start right from the core. Rehabilitation, public safety, economic responsibility, and basic human compassion and morality all go hand in hand toward leaving the barbaric attitudes of times gone by behind, while moving toward a modern, progressive, and viable corrections/rehabilitation system. The time is well at hand.


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