Lawmakers should review every prison rule Help to pack a House subcommittee meeting and vote on Oct. 26`

The Department of Corrections is one of two state agencies that can make up its own operating rules without approval by lawmakers. We hope that situation changes soon. A House subcommittee meets Oct. 26 to debate and vote on HB 192, a bill we wrote that would force Corrections to get all of its administrative rules approved by lawmakers. The session starts at 10 a.m. in Room 306 of the Legislative Office Building, across the street from the State House. We need people to come and testify. Or simply wear one of our YES on HB 192 stickers to show you support the bill.

The State Police, Health and Human Services and some 200 other agencies quite properly send their draft rules to the Legislature for vetting and a final committee vote. That review often takes multiple meetings. Elected officials deserve the last say on what administrative rules are going to say. Those regulations carry the force of law. HB 192 would make Corrections run its rules by lawmakers before those regulations take effect. 

Corrections should have to undergo this rigorous process. The agency has operated for decades with little rulemaking oversight from lawmakers.  We believe the prison system needs this scrutiny even more than other programs do. The men’s prison in Concord created, for example,  its own secret Parole Board just for folks convicted of sexual offenses years ago without any written policies to govern it. It had a bland name, the Administrative Review Committee. The lawful Parole Board almost always deferred to the advice of the ARC without getting critical information about those inmates seeking release.

According to an outside performance audit of the sexual offender treatment program last year, the real Parole Board should have been getting sexual offender “..assessment scores, treatment progress, level of participation in treatment, and whether they showed signs of accepting responsibility for their crime. However, this information was not directly provided by the ISOT (intensive sexual offender treatment) program.” 

Correction officials told us in 2015 and again in 2016 that only six people convicted of sexual offenses were missing their minimum parole dates each year. The audit revealed that 200 of them were going past their minimums, mostly because they could not enter their poorly staffed treatment course on time. We are aware of other prison programs just as dishonestly run as this one. The agency badly needs rulemaking oversight. By the way, the only other state program that can make up its own rules is the Parole Board.  

Additional information contact Chris Dornin,