Massachusetts officials promise to overhaul the way prisoners are classified to avoid the mixing of violent inmates and potential victims, the Boston Globe reports. The changes are part of a broader reexamination of policies throughout the correction system. “I think there is an emerging consensus for changing direction,” Edward A. Flynn, state public safety secretary, told legislators. “We will not be spending a lot of money on fortress-like facilities and we will steer inmates to an appropriate level of incarceration.”
The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee is reviewing prison problems after the death of former priest John J. Geoghan, who was killed by a fellow inmate Aug. 23. Critics charge that inmates are placed in higher security settings than necessary as a way for prison officials to punish them and control the population. Geoghan, 68 and frail, was sent to a maximum-security prison in April despite having no record of violent behavior in more than a year.
Flynn stressed that the Gov. Mitt Romney administration wants to break from the policies of the past that emphasized punitive and restrictive measures to control the prison population and deter crime. “We are emerging from an era in which Massachusetts was proud to be ‘tough on crime.’ ” Flynn said. “The people of Mssachusetts elected public officials who promised to be tough on crime, to `reintroduce prisoners to the joys of busting rocks.’ This emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation came with a pricetag, which was costly both economically and socially.”
Department of Correction Commissioner Michael T. Maloney publicly addressed Geoghan’s killing for the first time. He said that the last previous homicide in the prison system was in 1996. “We had one homicide in seven years,” Maloney said. “That is one homicide too many. But this is corrections. We have the most violent population in the state of Massachusetts. Unless you put correction officers behind every inmate, we really can’t have the type of system that I think a lot of people want. This is a human system. Sometimes people make mistakes.”