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Changes at Corrections
By Peter Reuell / News Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005

Seven months after the publication of a report (the Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform), urging reforms to the state's prison system, a handful of key changes are afoot, Department of Correction Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy said.

In a meeting with Daily News editors, Dennehy, who took over the department just months before the report was issued, said yesterday some of the report's proposed reforms may soon be put in place, while others are among the department's long-term goals.

"I, frankly, couldn't wait for them to issue their recommendations," Dennehy said. "Some of them, frankly, are well within our purview, things that we've been able to do immediately, some of them are shorter-term, some of them are longer-term fixes, but some of them...are beyond our control."

Already, Dennehy said, the department has reviewed its procedures surrounding the management of inmates in protective custody and has begun assessing the condition of the department's buildings.

In the next several weeks, Dennehy said, the department will also roll out a new "classification" system, to better determine where inmates should be housed, based on considerations like level of offense, likelihood of reoffending and what types of programs are offered.

"This is the type of stuff that can be kind of boring, but it really is the nuts and bolts foundation," she said.

Where classifications in the past were largely subjective, Dennehy wants the department to install a strict, points-based system, which would allow officials to easily determine the best place for various inmates to serve time.

"Bottom line is, it's weighing the competing security concerns, the public safety concerns vs. what are the individual offender's needs, (and) where are those programs located," she said.

Those classifications could then be revisited every six months to a year, to determine if an inmate should be relocated.

Among the largest recommendations outlined in the report issued last summer was the construction of another women's prison to ease overcrowding at MCI-Framingham, which was, at the time, the state's most crowded facility.

When the report was issued, the prison was running at nearly 130 percent of its capacity, while a unit housing those awaiting trial was at nearly 300 percent of capacity.

Though Western Massachusetts legislators are working to draft a bill relating to the recommendation, Dennehy said yesterday the bill is still in draft form.

Meanwhile, she said, the department is examining the growth of specialized populations, such as female and mentally ill inmates or sex offenders, within the prison system.

"We have crafted an outline as to the priority areas we think need to be looked at, based on our experiences," she said.
 
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