State eyes new classification for prisoners, more officers.
By Amy Lambiaso, State House News Service - March 02, 2005
The state is planning major changes to its corrections system that could mean hundreds of new corrections officers, a new classification system for inmates, and an independent inspector general to oversee operations, Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn said yesterday.
Flynn said the appointed advisory council formed last year to implement recommendations to the corrections system is prepared to propose sweeping changes this year that focus on improving the ''negative aspects of the internal climate" in prisons and jails in Massachusetts.
''Overwhelmingly, the majority of the recommendations you're going to see movement on," he said in an interview. The council, headed by former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, must submit a report by September.
The Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform highlighted the system's shortcomings, punctuated by the August 2003 murder of defrocked priest John Geoghan, Flynn said. Most significantly, the report recognized staffing shortages and classification problems that resulted in insufficient oversight and procedural flaws.
Flynn said the administration intends to roll out a new classification system for inmates within the next few months. According to the commission's report, Geoghan, a Level 4 prisoner, should not have been transferred to Souza-Baranowski, the Level 6 higher security facility where he was killed. The classification appeals process ''was flawed in its lack of objectivity and thoroughness," the report said.
The recommendations also call for the hiring of an independent inspector general to oversee management of the system and any transfer of inmates, and conduct internal auditing of the facilities. The state is also looking to hire ''a couple hundred" more corrections officers during the next few years.
''Any time anything happens in corrections, people assume it's because of a lack of officers," Flynn said. In actuality, he said, Massachusetts has the second best ratio of staff-to-inmates in the nation, although the total number of officers is less than it was five years ago.
According to a report released Monday by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, the state increased its spending on corrections by 23 percent between 1994 and 2003, while the number of inmates declined by 7 percent from 10,644 to 9,886 during that time period. The result has been higher-paid officers and a 1:2 ratio of staff-to-inmates, the report said.
Asked why the state plans to add officers given the staffing ratio, Flynn's spokeswoman, Katie Ford, said that in part, the state needed to fill open positions that are ''critical to the operations at DOC."