By Katherine Robinson, J.D. ’18
On Thursday, October 6th, PLAP Board Members Dennis Dillon, Annie Manhardt, and I testified at a public hearing regarding proposed changes to the Massachusetts Department of Correction regulations. Executive directors Judy Flumenbaum and William Ahee also helped to draft our comments. As an organization, we submitted testimony regarding proposed changes to the regulations that govern disciplinary hearings, use of force, and grievance procedures. A few of the department’s proposed changes we support as long-overdue amendments to DOC policy, such as prohibiting the issuance of disciplinary reports for self-injurious behavior and providing that defendants in disciplinary hearings may seek accommodations for their disabilities. However, PLAP students reviewing the proposed changes identified a number of issues that concern us including the use of overly broad language that would give correction officers little guidance in assessing aggravated assaults and the reasonable use of force, vague and redundant offense definitions that could lead to further abuse of disciplinary ticketing, failures to clarify aspects of sanctions procedures that could lead to inconsistent and unfair outcomes, and new language that runs the risk of deterring the submission of valid grievances.
At the hearing, we voiced our concerns before DOC representatives, along with our supervisor Joel Thompson (who spoke on behalf of Prisoners Legal Services), families of incarcerated people, and representatives from the correction officers union. Though it remains to be seen whether the DOC will incorporate any of our comments into the amended regulations, I’m glad we had this opportunity to voice our clients’ concerns, share the experiences of student attorneys who navigate these regulations, and help shape the rules that dictate so much of our clients’ lives. In a system designed to silence incarcerated people and hide abuse within prisons from public view, PLAP is honored to speak on behalf of our clients and hold the DOC accountable for their policies that authorize the inhuman conditions in which prisoners are held.