The state senator who co-chairs the Legislature's joint Judiciary Committee says the Department of Correction is not implementing reforms across state prisons in accordance with legislation, and is partly to blame for a violent incident at a max security prison last week that left three correction officers hospitalized.
A DOC video shows inmates attacking the officers at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility in Shirley last Friday. After the incident, the state's correction officers union released a statement claiming that the Criminal Justice Reform Act is to blame for the violence.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge disagrees, saying it's DOC management, not the recently enacted legislation, that is the problem.
“The major reform in the prison was supposed to have been around solitary confinement," Eldridge told WBUR. "But the prisoners who attacked the correctional officers were in general population. And my understanding is they were part of a gang. And so I think that's much more has to do with the DOC management than anything we passed in the criminal justice reform law."
Eldridge also said the DOC has not implemented many of the reforms called for in the law, such as providing regular reports about the use of solitary confinement, or restrictive housing. He also says he’s met with Gov. Baker about it.
“Essentially, none of those reforms have been implemented. So, I've visited three prisons so far and they haven't been implemented," Eldridge said. "I've sat down with the Baker-Polito administration and asked: When is that going to happen? Because — at least my view is — the way you reduce tension in the prison is providing more programming, more visitation and more rights to prisoners."
The DOC pushed back against Eldridge's claims in a statement.
“All DOC facilities meet or exceed the requirements of Massachusetts law, including the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, which houses the most violent and dangerous offenders in the state," the statement said.
Eldridge plans to meet with the correction officers union and visit the prison in the coming weeks. He says he’ll advocate for more officer training, increased staffing and more programming for prisoners.
A prisoners' rights group also criticized the correction officers union for their statement earlier this week, calling it "wrong and irresponsible."
Ultimately, Eldridge says, this debate about the violence at Souza-Baranowski reflects a deeper disagreement.
"Well, I think really, this is a sort of part of a bigger discussion about how do you improve conditions both for the correction officers and the prisoners," he said. “There are some who believe that it's a continued sort of tough on crime approach. But I think you actually need to treat prisoners better. Quite honestly, this is a disagreement over a vision for what should be happening in our prisons."
This segment aired on January 15, 2020.