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'Absolutely' Time For Reforms To Incarceration In Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk is the largest medium security level facility in Massachusetts.
Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

This week, federal authorities released the results of an investigation on Massachusetts state prisons, and said conditions violate the constitutional rights of inmates.

The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said the Department of Correction failed to provide proper care or supervision to prisoners in mental health crisis.

Governor Charlie Baker said every recommendation by the Justice Department will be put into place

"And while we have focused real hard on a bunch of different things associated with DOC over the course of the past few years — around criminal justice reform, managing COVID — this is a fail that needs to get fixed," Baker said.

The investigation started two years ago, but only now the state is saying it will work on the problem.

Panelist Ron Chimelis said he's not exactly surprised corrections officials let this go on so long.

"Every time you hear about something being delayed, you think COVID," Chimelis said. " I don't know if that's a fair excuse for this, so I can't say I'm surprised. These things don't happen overnight."

He said two years is indeed a long time, but at least officials now say they're addressing the problems after being pushed by legal authorities. And he said it's an opportunity for the state to aim to be a leader again in prison reform.

Panelist Kristin Palpini said it is "absolutely" time for that reform.

"The report was particularly critical of the prisons putting people that were having mental health episodes in solitary confinement for, in some cases, more than four days," Palpini said. "And that is just the opposite of what you need to do in that situation. And it led to injuries and deaths. It's cruel and unusual. So that needs to be fixed."

Meanwhile, on Beacon Hill, legislation aimed at policing reform has been stalled for months, and time is running out to get something done. The Massachusetts House and Senate each passed their own versions, but so far have not been able to iron out the differences and come up with a compromise bill.

The Boston Globe reports some of the issues at hand are the configuration of a police certification board and legal protections for police officers in civil lawsuits.

Also this week, Baker filled the last vacancy on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He's added two new judges, who are both people of color. His pick for chief justice, Kimberly Budd, was unanimously confirmed, becoming the first Black woman to lead the SJC.

Budd has family ties to the Springfield area, but none of the justices are from western Massachusetts, leaving the high court without a voice from the area.

We wrap up this week with the weather. Forecasters with the National Weather Service said New England could be in for a mild winter, but there could still be a big storm here and there.


  • Ron Chimelis, reporter and columnist, The Republican
  • Kristin Palpini, managing editor, Daily Voice Massachusetts

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