LEGISLATIVE ALERT: We need to pack a State House rules hearing on Mar. 16

Please come testify at a public hearing on more than 100 pages of proposed administrative rules by the Department of Corrections. It’s the most important State House hearing since the debate seven years ago over shipping 600 prisoners out of state to private prisons. We blocked that bad idea.

The meeting on prison rules should start at 9 a.m. on Friday morning, Mar. 16, in front of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. We’ll let you know by Feb. 26 if the hearing is definitely in March. There is a small chance it could happen in April. The event will take place in room 306 of the Legislative Office Building.

Please know that there is related legislation to force Corrections to get all of its administrative rules approved by lawmakers, but SB 373 will have no impact on the rules hearing next month. A pending amendment to the bill, agreed to by Corrections, would require the agency to get its administrative rules approved by lawmakers only in the areas of “operations and programs.”

The draft rules at the hearing in March vaguely outline a requirement for convicted sexual offenders near parole to win approval from a long-secretive board within the prison system called the Administrative Review Committee. That review happens before the inmates can even reach the Parole Board. They never go before the Administrative Review Committee or get to read its opinions. We would like the state to abolish the Administrative Review Committee, but that is unlikely to happen.

The proposed rules ignore four years of turmoil we have fought with Corrections over this Administrative Review Committee, starting when it had no written policies. A performance audit we secured of the sex offender treatment program in 2016 showed the Parole Board was deferring to the Administrative Review Committee on all decisions to release sex offenders. Parole Board members almost never received the needed information to make their own parole decisions on these prisoners.

We also want the sex offender treatment program to start soon after an inmate enters prison, followed by participation in a long-term support group inside the walls. For years now, more than 200 sex offenders have missed their earliest parole dates, often because of a backlog in the sex offender treatment program. Many convicted sexual offenders have started their required treatment program too late to leave prison at their minimum sentences. They have also missed out on sentence reduction opportunities and community placement at two-thirds of their minimum release dates. Those chances for release are open to non-sexual offenders.

With these two changes to the program in place, there might be no need for community treatment of sexual offenders on parole. By the way, the draft rules are still silent about the standards for such community treatment. In the past, at least two counselors improperly taught sexual offender treatment programs both inside and outside the walls

The draft rules, in fact, say nothing about community treatment for inmates on probation or parole status. We think the rules before lawmakers should do so, given the high number of complaints we hear about both community programs.

There are no draft prison rules about the placement in the prison secure psychiatric unit of mentally ill folks from the State Hospital, sometimes women. We think there should be separate Corrections rule making for this dubious practice. The department is using the inadequate Mental Health rules for the prison secure psychiatric unit. Many of the mentally ill prisoners have no criminal records and have to serve time with arguably the most dangerous male inmates.

There are no rules or proposed rules about the cages similar to small phone booths that prison staff lock dangerous prisoners in so they can attend counseling groups. We pushed to get Corrections staff to admit they use these strange crates. At first they denied the booths exist.

Currently the prison requires convicted sex offenders to pass a polygraph exam before their prison file goes before the Administrative Review Committee. We understand the test is poorly administered. More to the point, it is unscientific and unacceptable as evidence in a trial court. It prevents many inmates from leaving prison at their minimum sentences.

By Chris Dornin, Legislative Policy Committee Chairman Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, Questions: cldornin@aol.com

Newsletter Edition:  https://us15.campaign-archive.com/?u=b1017c87e9bafb3ef49d18057&id=729004...