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Massachusetts Department of Corrections Commissioner Harold Clarke is leaving the state

Virginia, he's your problem now. 

Commissioner Harold Clarke, the top administrator of Massachusetts Department of Corrections, has taken a job as the director of Virginia's Department of Corrections

Last month, the Phoenix published an investigation into one of the Mass DOC's biggest failures: the Old Colony Correctional Facility [OCCC], which has been plagued by suicides, overcrowding, and allegations of human-rights abuses. The DOC declined to make Clarke available to respond to our story, but maybe the Virginia media will have better luck getting some answers out of him. Here's a taste: 

In the past year, several elected officials and DOC Commissioner Harold Clarke have visited OCCC to address problems between Caucasian officers and minority inmates. Concurrently, at least two female employees were escorted off the grounds after being caught having sex with convicts. In a state where convicts reportedly kill themselves at more than three times the national rate, in 2010 OCCC is the facility where prisoners are most likely to commit suicide. Attorneys for a recently deceased prisoner who hung himself there say the inmate complained up until his death about being denied his anti-psychotic drug regimen as retribution.

According to documents obtained by the Phoenix and interviews done with prisoners, problems between convicts and OCCC officers have escalated in the midst of what appears to be chronic institutional dysfunction. Visits from top lawmakers including Governor Deval Patrick have failed to stem what activists allege is systemic abuse of black and Latino prisoners, who comprise 54 percent of the center's population. Among the allegations: officers intentionally disrespect such religious and cultural items as Korans; concerted efforts are made to suppress educational opportunities for minority prisoners; and physical and institutional retribution is carried out against convicts who file grievances. A group of black prisoners at OCCC who organize as the African Heritage Coalition (AHC) say they have been especially targeted. Internal reports show that this past winter officers cancelled a long-planned Kwanzaa celebration on false premises; inmate advocates perceive this as a dangerous symbolic gesture.

This all comes at a time when tensions between officers and administrators are particularly high due to department-wide overcrowding, and when severe financial restraints are causing further problems. For the first quarter of 2010, the Mass DOC operated at 141 percent of its designated capacity, exceeding the intended average daily statewide population by more than 3000 prisoners. OCCC currently holds about 755 convicts — nearly 300 more than the facility was designed for. In 2009, the state could not afford to pay Bridgewater an annual $187,000 prison mitigation payment that the town uses to protect itself in the event of a jailbreak. In July, the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union (MCOFU) sued the DOC for overcrowding, alleging that the department is illegally and irresponsibly double-bunking convicts at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. The case was dismissed because the union could not prove administrative guilt, but overcrowding at commonwealth facilities remains an ongoing worry: it's the rare issue that officers and progressive prison abolitionists mostly agree on . . .

. . . With aggravation building between inmates and administrators, in June of 2009 Commissioner Clarke and Governor Patrick visited OCCC to interview both sides. Among the grievances reported by inmates at the meeting, and that were recorded by AHC members, including Roxbury native Mac Hudson: OCCC employees "use policies and practices to discriminate against minorities in every facet of their institutional life," from job assignments, re-entry programs, and visitation policies to meal quality and recreational opportunities. Most damning were allegations that officers conspired against certain groups and individuals by manipulating the disciplinary process. Yet the DOC has no official report from this meeting, and refused to make the commissioner available for comment. Instead, a spokesperson tells the Phoenix that "Clarke is not aware of such [racial] tension."
READ: Old Colony Correctional Center has been plagued by suicide, overcrowding, and brutality — and things are only getting worse
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