VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Culture of Punishment

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Vanguard Incarcerated Press bannerBy William J. Duclos

The Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) continues a failed practice implemented 32 years ago by then-Governor William Weld with a culture of “teaching prisoners the joys of busting rocks” and “Boot Strap Tactics.” These same tactics are detailed in these proposed regulation changes.

For 100 years MCI-Norfolk has existed in a culture of community, collaboration and programs. Under the current administration at the DOC central and MCI-Norfolk that is all being systematically destroyed due to operational failures and attempting to turn back the clock to the Weld era as this proposed change. The struggle of the current DOC administration push against the Criminal Justice reform passed by legislators can be seen in the proposed changes.

MCI-Norfolk remains a productive prison community in spite of the current administration’s harmful tactics. There is a “Quad” which is historically known as the “Oval” as it was first referred to as a symbol of the Community Gathering area. A place for older prisoners to walk in safety on a level surface and provide a greater feeling of safety than a normal prison yard. This area serves as the physical and spiritual center of the prison, being surrounded by the school building and Community Service Building (CSD). However, now under the current repressive administration in charge, the quad has been all but closed for “destination only.” Recently, the 2022 Community Day event was expanded to include the Quad. However, the Community aspect appears to be taking its last breaths.

Never before in the History of MCI-Norfolk has the administration been compelled to close the Quad (heart of the prison). However, failures by administrators to properly operate this prison have resulted in repressive and harsh tactics. Administrators blame the DOC Central office for sending “undesirable inmates” to the prison. MCI-Norfolk has a history of collaboration and building men, not oppressing them.

In the past there have been peaceful walks, “group demonstrations” to protest prison conditions around the Quad without incident in the 1970s. Some 30-70 prisoners were transferred to other prisons. The Quad was not closed for this.

There was a group altercation (gang disturbance) in the alley off the Quad many years ago. The reaction of that administration at the time was not to repress and punish the population but to engage and collaborate as architect and first Superintendent Howard Gill would have done. This resulted in the first Restorative Justice Program in Massachusetts prisons.

Under the current DOC administration and changes, programs such as this have been reduced and suspended without penological interest, suspending programs or cutting back programing. The focus for the DOC is that of punishment and not addressing behavioral health factors, mental health, substance disease and reentry. This regulation change is just another example of a punishment culture.

Programming access has been reduced and in the words of prisoners “programming has become toxic.” Prisoners who are doing the “right things” are being sanctioned and punished without cause, being denied programming and treatment.

Currently, Administrators have commented when these concerns are brought to them in the following manner.

“I never believed I would have been able to shut this place down and COVID opened that door for me.”

“We are going to take the weights from you, melt them down, and build a statue to the officer in Shirley.”

 “Remember Howard Gill was fired, he’s not a good example,” and “Why should this be different from any other prison?”

 “Milford DOC Central office does not understand this place and all the defenders are retired.”

 This antagonistic nature is now commonplace at MCI-Norfolk and across the DOC from administrators to correctional officers without accountability. When letters of concern are sent to DOC Headquarters in Milford, these letters are sent back to the prison without correction.

November 25, 2022, a Notice of Public Hearing in regard to Use of Force (103 CMR 505) was amended December 19, 2022, which includes: K-9 Units, use of firearms, Chemical Agents/Specialty Impact Munitions, Batons just to name a few. These items all sound as if the DOC is going to war. An officer has not been killed for over 50 years in the MA-DOC. However, many inmates have died in DOC custody without accountability. Staff-on-Inmates assaults go unchecked.

November 3, 2022, Officer Christopher M. LaRochelle, 21-year veteran of the DOC, did slap Inmate Jose Rodriguez, W115850, across the face in front of other witnesses and staff. Immediately after being assaulted, Jose Rodriguez did respond out of self-defense. Inmate Charles Sierra, W111443 did put himself between the staff member and inmate stopping the altercation and preventing an escalation. Charles Sierra has since filed an informal complaint, placing his eyewitness testimony on record. Officer LaRochelle continues to work and receive pay. It should be noted that even though cameras are placed in all areas of the prison, the Main Line Kitchen (MLK) remains without cameras, in spite of a report detailing misuse of DOC Inmate Food Budget. It should also be noted this matter is not being addressed as a “Use of Force’,’ which requires a higher level of review. However, Officer LaRochelle admits in his initial report to physically making contact with Rodriguez which falls under use of force.

On or about January 14, 2022, Paul Silva, W99580 was assaulted at (MCI- Norfolk) by John D. Heinricher. This all took place on DOC cameras. Paul Silva is legally blind and the administration and the officer in question are fully aware of his disability and the assault that took place. However there has been a systematic effort by Superintendent Nelson Alves, Investigators and IAU to cover this up. In brief, on January 14, 2022 at about 7:45 AM in Unit 6-2 Paul Silva was assaulted by a MA-DOC employee. Paul Silva was then placed into segregation and released shortly after. Paul Silva was walking down the stairs looking at his feet due to his disability. Going up and down stairs requires a lot of attention to his steps and movement. Officer Heinricher, did barrel up the stairs physically elbowing through him resulting in Silva being shoved to the floor.

December 22, 2021, at approximately 9:06 AM Officer Tony A. Rodrigues did engage in a blind side attack from behind on David Evans, W108710. This assault occurred when David Evans was walking away from Officer Rodrigues, a 19 year veteran of the DOC. It should be noted officer Rodrigues has been disciplined multiple times for misconduct. Furthermore, it should be noted that Officer Rodrigues is currently on no inmate contact still being paid. The Internal Affairs Investigation #19529. David Evans has also filed a formal grievance to document this assault #115268.

Mr. Cesar Santana, was assaulted in 2021 by Correctional Officer Roy during an argument between the two directly in front of Unit 8-1. While engaged with Mr. Santanta in a verbal argument over property issues, Officer Roy quickly motioned his hand thus assaulting Mr. Santana with a slap across his face. Out of shock of being assaulted by this officer (Roy). Santana asked Officer Roy “Did you just slap me in the face? Did you just slap me in the face?”. Officer realizing quickly what he had done, tackled Mr. Santana to the ground. Mr. Santana has physical impairments which require use of a walker and has used this for a number of years before this incident, due to a major back operation. It should also be noted that (2) cameras are located in this area; however, the DOC claims no camera footage was available in this incident.

The DOC continues to show disregard for rules of conduct and continues to cover up events in favor of officers and now a regulation change is proposed to free up further conduct. However, there are no changes to improve programing and health services.

The current DOC is obviously setting a battle plan in place for the new elected officials. Health & Human Services (HHS) would provide better leadership with the $700 million dollar yearly budget and not allow for such abuses as these proposed changes. We need to create a climate suitable for healing and reconciliation for everyone affected by crime and make a safer society for survivors of crime, prisoners, families and the greater community. HHS is better suited to address fiscal priorities such as, use of lower security, proper use of force regulations, more effective programing and treatment, and working in conjunction with parole to prepare prisoners for successful release to society. HHS will not weaponize behavioral issues but seek to create more effective solutions to crime and prison management, and Substance Use Disease (SUD).

The DOC has released some 50% of the population to society without major incidents. However DOC staffing costs continue to rise, and the Central DOC office in Milford has not reduced their staffing levels but increased an emphasis on punishment such as this proposed change and has not sought to correct causative factors. It spends only 2% of the budget on programming.

The culture of the DOC needs to be changed to place Treatment over Punishment (TOP). Stopping this regulation change and waiting for new leadership to make such decisions when seated in January 2023 only makes sense.

On behalf of the Norfolk Inmate Council (NIC) I respectfully offer these thoughts.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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