Issues: The Citizen Review of the Department of Corrections in Massachusetts Project
Campaign for a Civilian Review Board for the MA Department of Corrections
Many state social services agencies in Massachusetts have advisory boards to assist the executive secretary in guiding the agency in order to improve the services delivered. The Department of Corrections currently lacks such a resource, though until the Late 1980’s a Governors Council on Corrections did exist. This campaign is directed at re-establishing an advisory board for the DOC, providing the DOC administration, the staff and inmates with an outside resource which will help improve conditions for all concerned. The Advisory board can become the eyes and ears for all parties, including the taxpayers in Massachusetts.
IMMEDIATE LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
At the beginning of this session (2003-04) Rep. Kay Khan (D.Newton) introduced H.2853 providing for such an oversight board (See “Synopsis of H.2853” tab for original content). The bill had numerous cosponsors, both representatives and senators. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Public Safety, which committee has oversight of the Department of Corrections. A hearing on this bill and some 50 others concerning a variety of DOC concerns before the committee was held on March 20th. This bill gained attention within the Committee with the murder of John Geoghan at Souza-Baranowski MCI, a level 6 (high security) prison.
Friday, December 19th, the Joint Committee on Public Safety voted to report out H.2853, “An Act to Create a Citizen Review Board”, with a favorable recommendation. Numerous changes were made to the bill, beginning with the title. In dropping the last phrase “For the Department of Corrections” from the title, the Committee appeared to intend the Board to include purview of the County Houses of Corrections. To that end, there were a number of changes in the makeup of the Board. The number increased from eleven to thirteen members. The seat for the Commissioner of Public Health was dropped, and seats for the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union, the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, and the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services added. Though the initial approval by the Committee on Wednesday, December 17th included the deletion of the Commissioner of Public Health, Rep. Bradford Hill (R. Ipswich) brought the omission to the attention of the Chairs, who re-instated the Public Health Commissioner on Friday, Dec. 19th. Several weeks later the seat for the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice was dropped to bring to keep the number on the board at 13.
No subcommittees of citizens assigned to specific Correctional Institutions were kept, as the original bill had contemplated. In addition, unannounced access to all prisons is limited to 7a.m to 7p.m.; night visits must be scheduled with two days’ notice to the Commissioner of the DOC. Finally there is a sunset clause; the act expires on January 1, 2012.
The bill adds specific reference to reporting on the impact of prison policies on over-classification, while maintaining the concern on recidivism rates. The revised language directs the Board to review both state and county facilities including the annual plans and budget of the Department of Correction; there is no mention of the budgets for those county facilities whose funding does not flow through the DOC.
As suggested by the changes in membership of the Board, the potential workload of the committee may have been greatly expanded to not only include the County facilities but all other state facilities - all to be accomplished without the structured resources of subcommittees comprised of non board members as initially contemplated in H2853 as introduced. Whether the changed language is intended to give the CRB authority to review county facilities depends on who within the Committee is asked for clarification.
This is the first time in twelve years of effort (six consecutive sessions) that a bill providing for an oversight board for the DOC has been reported out of the Joint Committee for Public Safety. Every committee member office was deluged with letters and phone calls and e-mails from people across the state; one office displayed a partial stack over 1 inch thick of some of the mail received. Several staff of committee members commented on the well organized effort to draw attention of the committee members to this bill.
The bill was discharged from the Public Safety committee on January 22nd, 2004. At that point, a new number was assigned - H.4457. It then was sent to the Joint Rules Committee, which referred it to the House Rules Committee.
On February 22nd, 2004 the House Rules Committee (Angelo Scaccia, Chair) reported H.4457 out of committee, after overcoming opposition by at least one member of the House. It then went to the House Steering and Policy Committee on the last day of the month, and was immediately sent to the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. The bill has since been in that three member House Committee (Robert Deleo, Chair). The responsibility of this committee is to schedule bills for the house calendar; however, it can also be a graveyard for legislation. Efforts to bring the bill out of that committee are said to be counterbalanced by calls to the Committee’s office opposing the bill.
If it leaves the Third Reading Committee, it will then move to the floor of the House for a vote by the entire body. If approved, a comparable process begins in the Senate.
BUDGET APPROACH TO A CITIZEN REVIEW BOARD
In concert with this legislative action, an amendment to the House Budget including a number of bills from the Joint Committee on Public Safety has been successfully adopted and the entire House Budget awaits a final vote, expected within the month. This amendment includes $100,000 for a Citizen Review Board for the DOC and language to create such a Board. This Budget is different from the Governor’s budget and those with whatever Budget passed by the Senate will need reconciliation.
This version of a Review Board has much the same mandate as H.2853 and H4457. However, there are two consequential changes- the composition of the Board and an added section focusing the attention of the Board on the conditions of “Unit 4” employees, which includes entry level correctional officers, sergeants and Lieutenants, all of whom are members of the MA Correctional Officers Federated Union (MCORFU).
The “Citizens Correctional Review Board” of this budget version would “…consist of twenty-one members as follows: 3 members appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, 3 members appointed by the president of the senate, the president of the Massachusetts Sheriffs Association or his designee, the inspector general or his designee, the attorney general or his designee, the auditor or his designee and 3 members appointed by the governor, one of whom shall be the secretary of public safety, and one of whom shall be the commissioner of the department of public health, the chair of the parole board, a representative of the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union, a representative from the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters, a representative from the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a the Executive Director of the Massachusetts District Attorney Association or his designee, and a representative of the Victim and Witness Program.“
The change in composition of the Board substantively increases the seats directly or indirectly appointed by the Governor (3 and 4 in H.2853 and H4457) to 10. The seats appointed by the Legislature increase from 2 in the original two bills to 6, and the Chair of the Board is specifically designated as filled by a member from the Legislature. The seats from the private sector essentially remain fixed while the Judiciary seat is eliminated entirely. While in both H2853 and 4457, private sector organizations representing constituencies controlled 50 % of the seats, shy one; in the Budget version, that is reduced to 25% less one. Continuing to call it a “Citizens” board may be seen as somewhat misleading.
Section (g), pertaining to staffing oversight reads: “ [The Board] shall report annually on the staffing of Unit 4 positions, so-called, in each state correctional institution. Such report shall include, but not be limited to, the following: The number of Unit 4 positions broken down by correctional institution, and the number of Unit 4 positions vacant; the number of Unit 4 positions lost to retirement, discharge or resignation and the number that have been replaced; a breakdown by correctional facility of the staff hours of overtime worked by Unit 4 personnel and the annual aggregate costs related to this overtime; the number of reported assaults upon Unit 4 personnel; the number of Unit 4 personnel out on industrial accident leave, and for each individual, the length of time on leave.”
The full text of the budget amendment may be found at: