A series of proposed changes to Massachusetts prison guidelines has prisoner rights advocates and prisoners themselves on edge, reports the Boston Globe. The proposals include changes to department policies in prisoner mail, telephone and visitation privileges, including at a maximum security prison where advocates say prisoner tensions are already high. Prisoners there recently conducted a peaceful protest of the changes, apparently the first of its kind in the history of the 18-year-old facility, resulting in a week-long lockdown of the prisoners. Corrections officials said that the protest, which began Sept. 28, did not turn violent, and the 1,000-inmate facility was restored to normal operations.
Prisoner-rights advocates said inmates have perceived the proposals as the latest heavy-handed burden placed on a facility where inmates are in segregation for 19 hours a day, where educational programming is scarce, and where inmates have reduced access to items like toilet paper. “There’s nothing for them at that prison,” said Leslie Walker of Prisoners’ Legal Services, adding that the protests “are the straw that broke the camel’s back. We have no idea why they are making some of these proposals.” One of the proposals, for instance, would prevent young children from sitting on a prisoner’s lap. Advocates argued that a prisoner’s ability to see his or her child, and the child’s ability to physically embrace a parent, should be allowed, at least for children under 5.