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Record low incarceration levels, more funding to DOC, and plans to construct

The Department of Correction (DOC) in Massachusetts is experiencing record low inmate populations, calls for a prison moratorium to halt the production of prisons for the next 5 years, and questions on their adherence to prison reform policies. All while their yearly budget is increasing, and there are moves to close one prison with plans to spend $50 million on another.

DOC Seal

In February of this year, there was a protest to stop that construction and support the moratorium bill, which has two versions. It was organized by two nonprofits that advocate for reallocating resources from the criminal justice system to support people in underserved communities: Families for Justice as Healing and The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women.

At that protest, Sahsi James of Roxbury, who participates in both nonprofits, said “The prison and jail moratorium bill is just kind of us planting the seed to say that we don’t need — not just a women’s prison — but we don’t need any more prisons and jails, period, in Massachusetts.”

State Rep. Chynah Tyler, who filed one of the two prison moratorium bills, said in a statement, “The importance of the passing of this legislation for Massachusetts residents is simple! We have enough prisons here in the Commonwealth. We don’t need our tax dollars spent on any more correctional facilities!”

The DOC stated that it does not comment on pending legislation.

DOC’s Funding

In Massachusett’s 2022’s budget, there are $1.8 billion dollars allocated to Public Safety. Of that, the DOC received $731,185,808 from direct appropriations, so state tax dollars. Based on that, without taking income or joint status into account, the average Massachusetts resident paid $83.26 to the Department of Correction (DOC) in income tax.

When taking into account the federal spending, another $572,730, the “retained revenue” from DOC fees, $8,600,000, and revenue and “chargeback” for “prison industries and farm services,” $20.25 million, the total budget for the DOC was $760,608,538. That number has increased from about $580 million in 2016, which doesn’t take into account funding allocated to counties and their correctional facilities and programs.

Incarceration levels and Prisons

According to data from the Special Commission on Correctional Funding, (SCCF) the cost per inmate rose from $59,535 in 2016 to $92,368 in 2020. From 2016 to 2021, the number of inmates dropped from 10,014 to 6,848.

Citing this decrease in prisoners and high maintenance costs, about $30 million in infrastructure repair, the DOC announced that it will be closing one of its 16, state-run facilities, MCI-Cedar Junction by 2024. It is running at 68% capacity.

MCI-Cedar Junction is one of 16, state-run facilities and was opened in 1956. The three-phase process is expected to start this summer by moving its security evaluation center to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. That institution recorded 621 inmates in their Jan. 1, 2021 snapshot, but has an operational capacity of 1,410.

With costs increasing, is it being effectively used?

In their data, SCCF lists programs offered to inmates. Included is the mental health services Wellpath provides Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH) and MASAC at Plymouth. Its “persons served” are those diagnosed with mental disorders or “patients diagnosed with a DSM 5 condition.”

Earlier this year, the Disability Law Center (DLC) reported their findings on Wellpath’s services at BSH, along with recommendations for that institution. These include addressing included addressing the mold and asbestos found in the hospital, recommending health screening for staff and patients, and stopping the illegal and underreported use of physical and chemical restraint, and seclusion.

The report was mentioned in a March letter by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, critiquing the Baker administration for its resistance to statutory requirements and policy objectives for criminal justice and police reform. Such policies include objectives to eliminate restrictive housing or solitary confinement by 2021.

The DOC published a response to the report later that month where it “disagrees with DLC’s allegations that the conditions of the physical plant is unsafe, that the DOC’s mold remediation work has been deficient, and that care of Persons Served is contrary to state law.”

In that letter, they state that $88,000 has been approved for air quality testing and asbestos and mold remediation and cited their decrease in reported seclusion and restraint. As for the involuntary chemical restraint, called an Emergency Treatment Order (ETO) in the response, use is not reported to the Commissioner under Wellpath policy if administered without physical restraint.

More prisons or no prisons? Plans move forward

Last year, the state’s Designer Selection Board published a notice for the study and design of a women’s prison. In the meeting agenda for last year, the last mention of this project was in March, mentioning that three finalists were selected for the design. The project has been met with resistance from the public. 

Families for Justice as Healing (JSH) has previously criticized the lack of transparency by the state in advertising bids for prison construction. In an article last year, FJH also critiqued an alternative to the public bid process known as the “house doctor” method used for the construction of courthouses.

“Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) may have specifically solicited proposals from existing but substantively inapposite House Doctors in order to avoid further public scrutiny.”

Here, firms become pre-qualified to be “house doctors” and remain on call for projects. The firms then submit bids when projects are available, rather than going through the public bidding process.

Now, that same process is being used for the construction of prisons. The DCAMM did not respond in time for this publication on whether the “house doctors” will be used for the construction of the controversial women’s prison.

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Record low incarceration levels, more funding to DOC, and plans to construct

The Department of Correction (DOC) in Massachusetts is experiencing record low inmate populations, calls for a prison moratorium to halt the production of prisons for the next 5 years, and questions on their adherence to prison reform policies. All while their yearly budget is increasing, and there are moves to close one prison with plans toContinue reading “Record low incarceration levels, more funding to DOC, and plans to construct”

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