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MCLS Re-Classification

Classification in Massachusetts’ Prisons: A System under Review 

Classification, defined in Massachusetts  state regulation 103 CMR 420, is “a system by which the security and program needs of each individual in the Department [of Correction, or DOC]’s custody is determined.”   Over classification, or placing inmates at higher security levels than is required, is a serious problem in Massachusetts, according to both outside critics of the DOC and to the administration of the Department itself.  DOC Commissioner Dennehy acknowledged this on February 25th, in her testimony before the Governor’s Commission on Correction Reform. Within her first month she created a work group to review this concern expressly, and included members from outside government in the group.  The results of this working group promises long sought relief from a system that has hampered efforts by many inmates to reconstruct themselves while justifying a bloated budget for a department which now spends more tax dollars than does the Massachusetts university system.  

In the wake of the Willie Horton debacle, a human tragedy politically misused in the presidential election of 1988, the Weld administration in the early 1990s began a serious prison building program which replicated activities in most states. The state constructed higher security prisons, culminating with Souza-Baranowski MCI in Shirley, MA.  This prison is one of the so-called Super Max prisons, which by virtue of their design require a high guard to inmate ratio.  Simultaneously, the MA government effectuated a substantive decrease in medium and minimum security beds, both of which require less staff, as medium and minimum facilities were closed.   As late as June 30, 2002, the DOC closed a set of five facilities resulted in a loss of 986 medium/minimum security beds.  These closings meshed nicely with the need to justify the maximum prison building program by ensuring the expensive maximum security beds were filled.   

Reclassifying inmates to higher levels of security was the means to that end.  Massachusetts currently has a higher rate of over classification than any other state in the union.  One of the consequences of this over classification is the frequent release of inmates, upon completion of their sentence, back to the community with little or no pre-release programming. There have been instances of inmates going directly from maximum security prisons to the street with no transition period, or stepping down, while in DOC custody.   The response of the legislature as well as the administration is to consider mandating post release supervision, without reviewing consideration of missed opportunities during custody. 

Changes in the present system should not require any significant budgetary dislocations.  What will be required are a willingness on the part of the DOC staff , administration and line officers to acknowledge the shortsightedness of the current system and embrace changes which will work better for inmates, correctional officers, the administration, and most importantly, for the public. Commissioner Dennehy publicly began the process by informing all inmates with clear language of their rights and responsibilities during these classification hearings, including appealing classification decisions. Ensuring inmates of their rights, responsibilities, and even the criteria used in making evaluations is long overdue.   A classification process which supports rehabilitation by informing all concerned parties of the ground rules, thereby working to eliminate punitive or retributive motivation, will be a major benefit to all.  

Massachusetts uses 6 levels of classification, with number 1 used for inmates needing minimal supervision, who are well adjusted to confinement, and 6 for those considered most dangerous or unstable.  Inmates are classified upon beginning of confinement, and thereafter every six months.    

Classification for men determines the institution he will be placed in.  For women, there is only one prison attempting to provide for the entire range of security levels, occasionally placing lower security women in contact with higher security women.  Current classification processes provide for significant areas of subjective evaluation by the classification board (see also reservation 5, pg. 6 of the CJPC “The Geoghan Panel Report: What It Says – and What It Misses” March 2004). 

Massachusetts regulations authorize the prison superintendent to create the three person classification board, at least one of whom must be a corrections officer. While a “Classification Scoring Manual” to guide Corrections officers in the implementation of classification exists, it is apparently not available beyond departmental staff. 

What follows is the matrix of the Point Based System (PBS) as used within MA correctional institutions.  While this matrix is adopted from the Federal System, which is based on empirical evidence, the PBS is distorted or ignored in that the MA DOC has instituted 17 different overrides which the classification officer can use without explanation. Some of the overrides– examples are geographic overrides to facilitate family visits; presence of enemies within one or another institution; medical treatment availability, and presence of specific programs within certain prisons - are beneficial for the inmate.  Others are more inviting of abuse.  One such override is “More adjustment needed” which can be used to get around the category of “Institutional Adjustment”, duplicating one of the seven categories already present.   

Even without the undefined over rides, the evaluations of two of the categories (3 and 6) are based on the classification officer’s or classification board’s judgment call.  Both categories are highly dependent on the climate within the institution and even within the cellblock, which can be shaped by the administration and staff as well as by other inmates; category 5 is open to abuse to the degree disciplinary reports are used to harass an individual prison who is not liked by one or more correctional officers (see Reservation 2, page 5 of the “The Geoghan Panel Report…” for further comments on this concern).  Finally, category 7 is dependent upon the evaluation of the inmate’s participation in programs which are offered and even mandated.  On occasion inappropriate programs are required, i.e. sex modification classes for inmates who have no history of sex abuse.  If an inmate enrolls in such a program while not having either a sex offense conviction or a sex behavior problem while in prison, he/she may begin to acquire a wholly inappropriate history which will likely have ramifications after release from prison.  If that same inmate chooses not to enroll, he/she faces a higher level of security as a consequence. 

POINT BASED SYSTEM COMPUTATION MATRIX: (for inmates after initial class)                                                                                                                       points

1. CRIMINAL VIOLENT HISTORY

            WITHIN 5 YEARS OR LESS………………………………………… 3

            OVER FIVE YEARS OR NO CRTIMINAL VIOLENT HISTORY…. 0 

2. ESCAPE WITHIN FIVE YEARS…………………………………………..  4

            OVER FIVE YEARS OR NO ESCAPE………………………………..0 

3. INSTITUTIONAL ADJUSTMENT

            SEVER[E]

                        THIS IS DISCRETIONALRY CALL AND CAN

                        CONSIDER THE PRIOR INCARCERATION TOO………….4

            MODERATE

                        WITHIN THE PAST TWO YEARS……………………………4

                        OVER TWO YEARS…………………………………………...1

            NO PROBLEM……………………………………………………….....0 

4. PERCENT OF TIME SERVED                               0 – 25%…….....................3

                                                                                  26 – 50%.............................2

                                                                                  51 – 75%.............................1

                                                                                  over 75%.............................0

 

5. DISCIPLINARY BOARD CONVICTIONS IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS

                                                                                    5 or more………………..17

                                                                                    4 to 5……………………13

                                                                                    3………………………. .10

                                                                                    2………………………… 7

                                                                                    1………………………….3

                                                                                    0………………………….0

 

6. PSYCHOLOGICAL STABILITY…………………….UNFAVORABLE….2

                                                                                            FAVORABLE……...0

 

7. PROGRAM PERFORMANCE IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS

                                                                                OUT OF COMPLIANCE      9

                                                                                 PARTIAL COMPLIANCE  4

                                                                                 FULL COMPLIANCE         0

IF TOTAL POINT TOTAL IS BETWEEN 0 AND 4 THAN YOU QUALIFY FOR SECURITY LEVEL 1, 2, OR 3 (MINIMUM SECURITY OR LESS)

 

IF TOTAL PONT SCORE IS BETWEEN 5 AND 37 POINTS THAN YOU CAN BE PLACED IN SECURITY LEVEL 4, 5 OR 6.  OBVIOUSLY THE LOWER YOUR SCORE THE BETTER THE ARGUMENT FOR A LOWER SECURITY.

                 

                                               

For More Information Contact:

Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
15 Barbara Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Tel: 617-390-5397

Electronic Address: info@cjpc.org