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Mass. Prison Officials Rescind Order That Banned Staff Discipline During Coronavirus Outbreak

State prison officials are walking back earlier guidance that banned staff discipline and lifted suspensions on Department of Corrections workers because of the coronavirus.

The initial order, addressed to the DOC leadership team, was issued Tuesday by Deputy Commissioner Michael Grant. It said all discipline, including discipline hearings and suspensions of correction officers would stop, "due to the recent COVID-19 crisis." Only "egregious" situations would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

By Wednesday though, Grant's boss, DOC Commissioner Carol Mici rescinded the order. She called it unauthorized and said it was distributed without her knowledge.

Mici said the department's disciplinary procedure should remain unchanged.

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins criticized the initial order on Twitter.

"As the rest of the world is looking at ways to get non-violent people OUT of jails and prisons, our [DOC] is bulking up its staff with its disgraced, previously disciplined and suspended guards," Rollins wrote.

Gov. Charlie Baker indicated he was not aware of the order when asked about it during a press briefing Wednesday.

"I'll have to get back to you," Baker said when asked about the order. "The DOC has been taking a lot of guidance from the folks at the Department of Public Health with respect to all of their policies and procedures around managing inmates and managing their facilities."

Prisoners' rights advocates have been calling on Massachusetts to do what some other states have done to reduce incarceration.

The state has suspended prisoner visits by friends and family members, but attorney and clergy visits are still allowed. The DOC says it is enhancing hygiene at all correctional facilities and working with state health officials and correctional health care providers.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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