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Prison under fire
Climate called volatile at high-tech Shirley facility
By Francie Latour and Daniel Vasquez, Globe Staff, 09/17/99
t was happy hour in July at the Souza-Baranowski maximum-security prison, and inside the cafeteria at the newly minted facility in Shirley, some of the state's most violent offenders were sitting down for lunch.
Along a nearby corridor, prison Superintendent Paul DiPaolo and his deputies were lined up for a ritual few might expect at a top-security facility: a ''happy hour'' period, where inmates can approach officials with complaints after they've eaten.
As DiPaolo entertained the gripe of a prisoner, another inmate suddenly lunged at him with a rusted homemade knife, stabbing him in the chest.
Inside a prison named after two prison guards slain by an inmate, DiPaolo's alleged attacker, John Carillo, was a felon convicted in the 1973 killing of a Rhode Island prison correction officer.
That irony, officers who work at the prison say, is a symbol of a state-of-the-art prison in disarray.
When state officials cut the ribbons opening the maximum-security prison, they billed it as the crown jewel of the commonwealth's correction system, a high-tech facility that would alleviate prison overcrowding and keep a tight rein on the violent, often predatory offenders other prisons couldn't handle.
Nearly one year after the doors opened, some correction officers and their union representatives say the July 2 stabbing was the latest symptom of a widescale problem.
They say there have been dozens of attacks on staff since the first prisoners arrived - including 21 incidents from January to June. Last week, several inmates jumped a prison officer in a corridor, knocking him unconscious and sending him to the hospital emergency room, prison sources said.
And on Monday, a correction officer at the prison said, a 3-foot piece of steel bracing - a potentially deadly weapon in the hands of an inmate - apparently was ripped from a footlocker inside a cell. It's still missing.
Attorneys and advocates for a half-dozen inmates say that in the aftermath of the stabbing and other incidents, correction officers have exacted retribution on inmates, attacking them and parading their bruised bodies as examples for other prisoners.
While union representatives and a spokesman for the Department of Correction denied those charges, correction officers say their main complaint is with the state - not the inmates.
They blame the state for leaving the prison system chronically shorthanded, and for the lax discipline inside what is supposed to be the state's toughest prison.
''That's the irony of it,'' said a correction officer at the year-old prison, who did not want to be named. ''Ever since this place opened, the super, his staff, the commissioner - everyone - assured us that security and safety was going to be number one.
''I don't think the governor or anyone else knows that this place is being run more like a day care center than a level-6 prison,'' the officer said.
Even advocates for prisoners, who accused officers of severely beating inmates while hiding their faces and badge numbers - and who say the problem is not too much restraint, but too litte - agreed the climate is volatile.
''The guards are correct - the situation has gotten very dangerous there,'' said Jamie Suarez, co-coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program for the American Friends Service Committee, a Philadelphia-based human rights group. ''Just as the prisoners feel trapped and frightened by these situations, I believe the guards feel the same way.''
From the start, the $100 million facility was designed to incarcerate and control some of the state's worst felons.
The prisoners, some 800 overall, are guarded by a staff of about 370 correction officers, though union officials say the facility was created for up to 400 officers.
In a July 29 letter to state Secretary of Public Safety Jane Perlov, Jack Flanagan, an officer in the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, said the shortage was emblematic of a broader problem.
Asserting that the Department of Correction as a whole was down about 400 officers, Flanagan wrote that the ''crisis'' has ''created a morale problem among the rank-and-file officers.''
Yesterday, Charlie McDonald, a spokesman at the Executive Office of Public Safety, said those allegations are unfounded.
Perlov, McDonald said, ''has been assured by Correction Commissioner [Michael] Maloney that the facilities operate every day at a safe level, with no risk to the public, inmates or to staff.''
Figures provided by union representatives seem to back him up. From 1994 to 1998, assaults on correction officers statewide have decreased from 463 to just over 207.
But within the walls of Souza-Baranowski, officers said, the recent attacks point to inmate regulations that are too relaxed for what should be the state's toughest prison.
Under the state system, prisons are ranked from 1 to 6, with 1 being the minimum level of security and 6 the highest.
Prisoners at MCI-Walpole, a level-5 facility, must see any visitors behind a glass barrier, officers said. But inmates at Souza-Baranowski can have open contact visits with friends and family.
And while the facility at Walpole has towers from which armed officers can keep an eye on inmates in prison yards, Souza-Baranowski has no such towers.
The advocates for prisoners and the officers who guard them both say that chronic computer problems at the site have created dangerous situations for inmates and guards.
Unlike many of the older facilites, the cells and security doors at Souza-Baranowski are run almost entirely electronically by computer, said prison advocate Suarez, leaving prisoners locked in or out of their cells when the system malfunctions.
Officers, who for security reasons declined to explain the consequences of computer breakdowns, said the systems have had chronic problems.
''I open a door by computer, and I close a door by computer,'' one officer said. ''And when those computers don't work, it causes serious problems.
''You know all those people talking about Y2K? Well, there are two places you don't want to be on the millennium: On a plane, and at the Suzie B.''
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 09/17/99. ) Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), September 17, 1999
Sounds like the ultimate PC prison. Only hope that when it goes ape that The gaurds have enough ammunition to kill those jokers before they make it outside. Massachussetts is better known as "The Peoples Socialist Republic of Mass" Been a resident on/off for my whole life. And to think that this is where we stand today, mollycoddling the toughest felons in the state. They have a three strike law for drugs ... right? Well I think its time for a three strike rule for violent crime. Three armed robberies/rapes/attempted murder or any combanation of the above , or one murder with any of the above, and you get it in the head with a small caliber bullet, no long trial, no long appeals. (Murder is an automatic death sentence) You get one chance at an appleal on conviction. If you lose, there ain't none of this waiting around crap. You get taken into a small room, right after the trial, blindfolded, and popped with a .32 behind the left ear. Then your family gets the bill for the bullet, you get carved up for organ transplants, and the rest gets cremated. As far as wrongful prosecution goes, if found to be wrong, the procescutor and the primary witnesses all get it in the head as well. That might motivate some folks into doing their damned job right. Too Draconian eh? Well I did say I've been in a poopy mood today....
-- Billy-Boy (Rakkasn@Yahoo.com), September 17, 1999.
While I cannot totally agree with your plan, at least it could reduce recidivism. No more finding out that the accused drug dealer has 70 prior arrests (and has served a total of 2 years in jail!).
-- Mad Monk (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 17, 1999.
Billy, I think you are basically on target, excepting only the killing the prosecutorial staff. Under that rule, either no one would want the job, their salaries would cost a fortune, or very few trials would be undertaken. Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert separately wrote about some interesting legal system ideas; for FH, look at any of his books that involve the Bureau of Sabotage. (Don't remember which of RH's books chronicle his legal ideas). Help me out here, people.
-- MinnesotaSmith (email@example.com), September 17, 1999.