Last semester, new student attorneys visited MCI Cedar Junction, the reception center for male offenders in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. The tour guide brought the group through multiple areas of the prison, including the cells, the visiting area, and the Department Disciplinary Unit.
The tour of the cells went by two different sections–one area for new inmates who are at Cedar Junction temporarily while they are assigned to a permanent placement, and one for inmates who have been placed in the facility longer-term. New inmates’ cells are more open, with bars instead of a door, while inmates who will be staying at Cedar Junction have more privacy–a solid door with a window. In the visiting area, there are sections for both contact and non-contact visits. While a contact visit allows the prisoner and visitor to sit with one another without a barrier and to have some physical contact, a non-contact visit involves the use of phones on either side of a glass partition.
Cedar Junction, a maximum security facility, also houses the Department Disciplinary Unit, or DDU, for the entire Department of Corrections. One DDU Correctional Officer spoke about his experiences with these prisoners, who are often restricted from having contact with one another. These inmates remain in individual cages when they are brought outside, but sometimes fights break out anyway if one inmate reaches through to another. The CO described breaking up these fights, occasionally by using “chemical agent.” The tour group also saw the DDU’s therapy area, which is furnished with therapeutic modules. These modules are essentially cages that allow for group therapy programs while keeping the prisoners separated from the facilitator and each other. Student Attorney Anca Gabriela Bunda says, “The experience of visiting the DDU unit, where prisoners are put in solitary confinement, was also very eye-opening and has made me more motivated to work with PLAP.”
This was many students’ first trip to a prison. It is important for student attorneys to gain an understanding of their clients’ lives and situations before they represent them in hearings. Student attorney Laurel Fresquez says, “my experience was interesting with the prison. I’ve never been to one before and had no idea what to expect. It was nice to get some context…It just really reinforced that the prisoners are people who have rights that need protecting.”