Protesters Condemn Immigrant Detention Conditions At Boston Corrections Conference

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A national conference for the correctional industry in Boston began Thursday, and protesters are using the event to call for prison reform and condemn conditions in immigrant detention facilities. But some of the conference's attendees share those goals.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the Back Bay on Sunday to denounce mass incarceration and call for an end to the use of cages to detain people crossing the southern border with Mexico.

Among them was Walter Weatherly, who is training to be a minister in the United Methodist Church.

"It is absolutely unacceptable to have kids in cages for any reason — and migrants fleeing violence in Central and South America are met here with death and cages," Weatherly said. "It's not OK. And it's a human rights violation beyond any legality in America."

Sunday's march was organized to coincide with the American Correctional Association's Congress of Correction in Boston. Protest organizers said they're calling on the group to "stop accrediting or rescind accreditation of facilities with documented human rights violations."

"We're also calling out prisons and people who profit from prisons as people who are enabling the system's ability to define who is worthy of life and of freedom, and who gets to take away those liberties,” said Yaira Matos, a young professional who lives in the Fenway area.

A line of Boston police officers stood in front of the convention center and prevented reporters from entering the conference.

The American Correctional Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the group’s website says its members share a common goal of improving the justice system.

Congress attendee Ron Edwards, director of Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, says his facility is in the middle of an accreditation process with the association.

"I wanted to make my facility so much better that I'm going through the process — it's a two-year process — of being accredited, and that's changing all the policies, changing our organizational culture to be more concerned and considerate and more holistic approach to corrections," Edwards said. "And that's what this foundation is for.”

Edwards says he agrees with the protesters' condemnation of inhumane treatment in detention facilities on the border, but he says he’s attending the conference to learn how to do corrections better — and the protesters are missing that point.

“We're in this for the betterment of human beings," he said. "Nobody in my industry better have views of locking them up and throwing away the key. We all have to be on the same page to restorative programs — making people better — because that's what makes our community safer.”

The convention is taking place through Tuesday at Hynes Convention Center, with a keynote Monday morning by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

This segment aired on August 5, 2019.

Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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