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September 11, 2009

Massachusetts update on the challenges of the prison economy

This Boston Globe article, headlined "Prisons facing $100m in cuts: Fiscal scenario may prompt closings, layoffs," provides a Bay State perspective on the difficulties posed by the modern prison economy.  Here are excerpts:

Under increasing financial pressure, the state’s prison system is weighing close to $100 million in budget cuts that could force widescale layoffs and the closure of several facilites at a time of growing fears over inmate overcrowding.

Harold W. Clarke, commissioner of the Department of Correction, outlined the bleak fiscal scenario, and its potentially drastic consequences, at a monthly meeting yesterday between top prison managers and union leaders, according to Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union. Clarke told union officials the state is considering closing as many as four prisons and laying off 300 employees, Kenneway said....

The Patrick administration expects to make preliminary decisions on closings and layoffs next month, he said. The prospect of multiple prison closings alarmed critics who say the system is already dangerously overburdened. "You have prisoners locked in a cell together for 19 hours a day, with a resultant increase in violence," said Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which provides legal services to inmates. "It’s a mistake that could prove tragic."...

The state’s 17 prisons are well over capacity, with their population more than tripling over the past two decades to over 11,000. In July, a riot at the Middlesex Jail, a county facility in Cambridge at more than double its capacity, shone a harsh light on the problem, and has intensified lobbying for relaxed minimum sentences, accelerated parole reviews, and more liberal use of home confinements....

In the face of a worsening financial crisis, the prison system also plans to cancel in-service training for correction officers and shelve training for 150 recruits this fall. In November, it will also close a Bridgewater substance abuse center that treats more than 1,500 men each year who have been civilly committed by the courts. The men will be transferred to facilities run by the Department of Public Health, said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Correction.

September 11, 2009 at 10:06 AM | Permalink


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