Chapter 2: Public Program, Private Profit

The Massachusetts prison system is a fraud upon the public that pays for it, the victims it fails to protect, and the prisoners it fails to rehabilitate. Prisons don't stop crime and don't rehabilitate anyone.

But there is one thing that the Massachusetts prison system, like prisons everywhere, does well: it provides the Department of Correction's 1,800 employees and hundreds of contractors with a living. The state no longer profits from running prisons, but those who run them do.

The Department of Correction spent $38 million in the fiscal year ending June 30,1973. Eight million of that was spent on new construction, mainly at Bridgewater and Concord. The other $30 million is what it cost to run the five prisons and three forestry camps housing the state's 2,900 prisoners.

Contrary to widespread belief, that $30 million, or roughly "$10,000 per prisoner," is not spent mainly on prisoners. Only a few percent goes into food ($1.6 million, or $550 per prisoner), or into rehabilitation programs of any kind (less than $2 million, or $700 per prisoner). The food is so bad that many prisoners refuse to eat it, while the rehabilitation programs involve only a small fraction of the prison population. For the most part, that $30 million goes into the pockets of those running the system: wardens and guards, contractors and consultants, bureaucrats and politicians.

Where the money goes: salaries

The lion's share of the $30 million operating budget goes into salaries. Twenty-four million dollars, or roughly 80 percent of the budget, last year went to the Department's 1,800 permanent employees and dozens of temporary workers and consultants. Departmental employees have an average yearly wage of more than $10,000, with the majority of employees making more than that.

Roughly $11 million of last year's budget went to the more than 1,100 guards. Their powerful union has won them a starting salary of $9,600 and an annual average of more than $10,000, with Civil Service raises bringing a top salary of $12,000 a year. Every time the warden declares an "emergency" at a prison, the guards get overtime. In 1972, the state paid an average of $17,000 a month to the guards at Walpole alone.

There's no reason to criticize the union for winning decent wages for its members (many of whom did not get a high school education). But does the state need to spend $11 million a year to have people stand around watching prisoners? Or couldn't the state find more useful (and satisfying) work for 1,100 employees?

Presiding over the guards are the commissioner, the wardens and dozens of other higher-ranking former guards who have moved up the ladder. The commissioner gets $32,549 a year and is assisted by four deputy commissioners with salaries of $26,838. The wardens of the five major prisons get from $19,000 to $24,000, and each warden has deputy wardens paid $15,000 to $19,000 a year. These upper-level posts are normally filled with career guards who have stuck it out.

The Department has several hundred other employees in dozens of categories: from consultants brought in at $100 or $150 a day to secretaries and other lower-ranking employees getting $120 or $130 a week.

The salary pattern in these other positions shows just how much priority the Department gives to "rehabilitation" or to any purpose other than just guarding the prisoners. The few dozen teachers and social workers hired by the Department have starting salaries of $8,400 a year -- $1,200 less than a guard's $9,600. The guards get a good salary because of the strength of their union. The teachers, social workers and psychologists get low salaries because they're not really expected to accomplish anything. The teachers on the staff at Walpole have only one classroom, which makes any real educational programs impossible. The main job of these employees is to prop up the lie that prisons are designed to reform criminals.

The Department's temporary consultants of all kinds are very highly paid. One public relations man got $80 a day last year for writing news releases. An assistant to the commissioner was hired for several months at $100 a day.

Consultants usually do work that permanent salaried employees are already supposed to be doing. For example, Walpole Super prison paid several thousand dollars one month last year to have a dozen outside physicians from the Boston area come in and treat prisoners. Yet this work is supposed to be done by the full-time doctor on Walpole's staff, or else by the two doctors at the Norfolk prison hospital less than two miles away. The consulting doctors who came in were usually not specialists helping out the permanent doctors. They were brought in because the permanent doctors were not doing their jobs.

Walpole was at the same time hiring a Boston psychiatrist at $25 an hour to do psychiatric evaluations of prisoners seeing the Parole Board. This was a ridiculous expense for two reasons. First, Walpole has a full-time psychiatrist, a psychologist and five psychiatric social workers whose main job is to interview prisoners. Second, no psychiatrist can tell from a one-hour talk whether any prisoner is ready for parole.

These examples are just a few out of hundreds that could be cited. Salaries and consulting fees are the major expenses of the Department of Correction, yet almost none of the staff work directly with prisoners. The $24 million spent on salaries is a departmental gravy train which is able to run only because the public is not allowed to know what goes on behind prison walls.

illustration: Department of Correction Pay Scale

Where the money goes: contracts

Our prisons also funnel tax money to hundreds of small and large contractors and suppliers, and boost the economies of the towns where prisons are located.

The big money is in prison construction. At Bridgewater last year the Joseph E. Bennett Co. of Needham finished a new 450-unit prison costing more than $8 million. Roughly $6 million more in new construction will be spent at Bridgewater in the next few years unless it is stopped. Concord prison, also being reconstructed, spent $1.4 million for a new boiler plant. Concord also has a new gymnasium and school, but these are not being used because the building was so badly constructed that it is considered unsafe. Repair and renovations elsewhere brought last year's construction total to more than $8 million.

So far, we have accounted for $32 million of the Department's $38 million budget: $24 million in salaries and $8 million in construction. That leaves $6 million more in the budget for a long list of lesser expenses, such as food ($1.6 million), prison industry supplies ($1.5 million), heat and light ($873,000), office supplies, medical supplies, drugs, auto and travel expenses, employee benefits, retirement funds, and so on.

Since the guards and other staff live in towns around the prisons, it isn't surprising that cozy relationships develop between the prisons and local merchants. For example, there is a pharmacy in the town of Walpole which regularly sells prescription drugs to the prison. One of the pharmacists working there was hired to run the prison pharmacy for $5 an hour on one occasion in 1972, and five days later he sold the prison a $64 prescription. This is small potatoes, but it is typical of what goes on every day in the prison business.

Many outside contracts are unnecessary. For example, there is an exterminating firm which goes into each of the prisons once a month, charging the state several hundred dollars a month for its services. Yet there is no reason why this work could not be performed by existing prison employees. Private trucking firms are hired to deliver prison industry products, though the state could save thousands of dollars a year by having prison employees do the delivery work. Each forestry camp hires a bookkeeper to come in one day a week, even though the Department has other employees capable of doing the work.

Even clergymen get into the act of picking up whatever they can make off the prison system. At the Monroe forestry camp last year, a priest, a minister and a rabbi were each paid $45 a trip for coming in and saying services once a week. The $135 a week paid to the three of them was as much as the camp's 40 prisoners earned for a whole week's work. (Prisoners are normally paid about 50 cents a day.) Should clergymen get paid more for giving a sermon than all of their listeners combined get paid in a week?

But that is what the prison system is all about -- to hand over state tax money to those who keep the prisons running. Prisons are not run to rehabilitate prisoners but to benefit prison employees, their friends in local businesses and the large contractors operating on the state level.

The last and almost the least expense of running prisons is the money paid to prisoners for their labor, which usually means a rate of 50 cents a day. (A few get $1.00 or $1.50 a day.) The state's 2,900 prisoners last year earned a total combined wage of $171,000 -- an average of $60 a year each.

Out of that $60 a year, each prisoner is expected to pay for his or her clothing, toilet articles, cigarettes, candy, postage, TV or radio and all other expenses. That's how much of the Department of Correction budget goes to prisoners. And it's not given. It's earned.

The Massachusetts prisons

Bridgewater: The State's Largest Prison

Labeled as mental patients but treated as prisoners, the 900 men of Bridgewater have none of the rights of either. A prisoner elsewhere at least knows how long his or her sentence is. At Bridgewater most prisoners are held indefinitely and can only be released by a judge on the recommendation of a state psychiatrist.

Bridgewater holds several categories of prisoners: mental patients who refuse to stay in hospitals, as well as alcoholics, drug addicts, sex offenders, prisoners on "protective custody" and men being held for pre-trial psychiatric observation. Prisoners from Concord, Walpole, Norfolk and Framingham (including women) are sent to Bridgewater for punishment or segregation.

The largest section of Bridgewater is the Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Although it is called a hospital, any visitor can see how much of a prison it really is. Steel doors block the corridors, windows are barred, guards meet visitors with hostile questions, and nowhere is there any sign that it is a hospital.

Of the 586 Department of Correction employees at Bridgewater, 415 are guards -the same type of guards as at Walpole. Only, three of the 586 employees are psychiatrists, only two are psychologists. A guard gets a starting salary of $9,600, while a psychologist gets $9,000.

The prisoners of Bridgewater are forgotten, and the state wants them forgotten. But the guards' union at Bridgewater isn't forgotten. Their salaries last year came to more than $4 million more than half the budget.

When a film called Titicut Follies was made to show the wretched conditions at Bridgewater a few years ago, state Attorney General Eliot Richardson obtained a court order which banned the film from public showing in Massachusetts. He and other Massachusetts politicians didn't want the public to learn about the human misery its tax dollars are paying for.

Bridgewater prisoners are generally ineligible for even the few benefits other prisoners have won in recent years. Most of them cannot go out on furlough, on work release, or other outside programs. Since there are no prison industries at Bridgewater, most prisoners cannot even earn cigarette money. One man who was there last spring reported that he was paid three cigarettes a clay to work in the kitchen. The only kind of "treatment" given to mental patients at Bridgewater is usually massive doses of drugs to keep them quiet.

Bridgewater is a snakepit, a hellhole, a true 19th century asylum. In 1886, when it opened, it was regarded as the latest in humanitarian treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Now a new prison has been built in Bridgewater, again in the name of "prison reform."

But the new prison will be the same as the old, even if some prisoners get cots and toilets instead of bedpans and mattresses on the floors of their cells. It will be the same because the men of Bridgewater will still be locked up like animals, kept out of public view by 415 guards, and doped up with tranquillizers by the three psychiatrists who are paid to give the prison its title as a mental hospital.

In order to keep Bridgewater running, the citizens of Massachusetts spent nearly $9 million last year. They will spend $9 million more this year. Yet $7.5 million of that goes to the salaries of employees and almost none of it goes to the welfare of prisoners.

Norfolk: The Failure of a Dream

Once a world-famed model prison, Norfolk today is just another example of the hopelessness of building "better" prisons. Built by men from Charlestown State Prison in 1927, Norfolk was based on the assumption that farm work and fresh air would rehabilitate criminals from the city slums.

On paper it still might be easy to make Norfolk sound like a showpiece of reform. It is the site of the prison hospital and of the new Diagnostic Center for "scientific" classification of prisoners. Norfolk's 700 men include the largest lifer population of all the prisons, yet Norfolk has the smallest number of guards per prisoner. But each of these facts hides a bitter reality.

Although the 75-bed hospital has a director, two doctors and 14 nurses, seriously ill prisoners always have to be sent out to private hospitals at extra cost to the state. The hospital itself is not equipped to provide decent medical care.

Norfolk's many "rehabilitation" programs are successful in raking in Federal funds, but not good for much else. In any case, all of the programs combined involve only a minority of the prison population. Even those taking part in the programs regard them as a sham. Prisoners fake participation in programs to earn parole, and program administrators fake success to keep their jobs.

As one ex-prisoner put it, "All of the programs are forced programs. On that basis, no program works. It has no benefit because it's a game."

The Norfolk Fellowship, one of the better known programs, got $32,000 in Federal funds last year. The Fellowship consists of weekly rap sessions between prisoners and outsiders, scheduled by a minister and his assistant. But the content of the sessions is strictly controlled: political discussion of prisoners' rights, for example, is forbidden by the administration. As one former member of the Fellowship said, "What good is a program designed to help the man retain his dignity if the program is not allowed to fight for his dignity?"

Norfolk also has a so-called "work-release" program which received $58,000 in Federal funds last year. But the funds go mainly to program staff members, not to the working prisoners. A total of 45 prisoners each day go out to the Medfield, Foxboro and Wrentham state hospitals, where they work for a dollar a day.

The heart of Norfolk's population is its lifers -the roughly 135 men sentenced to life in prison. Ironically, prison guards and wardens consider lifers the most trustworthy and reliable prisoners, yet lifers are not allowed to take part in most programs. The result is that lifers are left with nothing to do for years on end, except to hope for the possibility of parole or pardon after 15 or 20 years.

Walpole: The System's Totalitarian Core

Terror and forced labor are what Walpole is all about. Walpole's 500 prisoners have two options: to work in the prison industries and other jobs, or to sit in their cells. There is not even a pretense of rehabilitation. Of the 359 prison employees, 240 are guards and many of the rest are former guards who moved up the ranks.

Within Walpole are Block Nine and Block Ten -- the segregation units where political leaders and anyone else who rebels against the system are kept. Confined to a cell 23 hours a day, beaten, gassed and threatened with years more of the same, any prisoner taken to the segregation units knows what the message is: bend or be broken.

The electric chair at Walpole has been dismantled, hopefully for good. But the executions still go on. Twelve Walpole prisoners have been murdered in the past two years and three more have committed suicide. The guards of Walpole have been fighting prison reform by starting riot after riot within the prison, and by turning their backs on violence amongst the prisoners.

The period of the guards' strike in early 1973 was one of the most peaceful periods Walpole has known in the past three years. This is what one prisoner wrote about the guards' walkout:

"For eleven weeks the National Prisoners Reform Association was left with the job of running the prison internally, and during that time there was very little difficulty between convicts: there was an air of hope. Things were not perfect (what human endeavor is?). There were a few who took advantage of the situation, but this was minimal. As far as I'm concerned, it was proven that convicts really run a penitentiary, and police are needed only to lock doors and stay in the gun towers, if that. Those weeks were evidence that People are governed only with their consent. (I don't mean repressed and controlled.)"

This period was the subject of the documentary Three Thousand Years and Life, filmed inside the prison with the help of the prisoners. In that period, and during the civilian observer program that followed, the lies of the guards about the men of Walpole were proven. Time after time, riots are provoked by beatings, lockups, searches and other tactics used by the guards to harass the prisoner population. The St. Patrick's Day riot of 1972 was caused by guards who saw two prisoners fighting and ran out of a cellblock yelling "Race riot'. Race riot'." The prisoners weren't fooled. Black and white prisoners quickly got together and dramatized their real grievances by tearing the prison apart in unity.

The guards of Walpole do not provide security to the public or to the prisoners. In fact, they can't even provide for their own security. Every time there is a disturbance at the prison, the guards' first reaction is to leave the cellblocks and call for the State Police.

Concord: Another Reform That Failed

Concord is living proof that the "youthful offenders' prisons" sought by reformers are a hoax. Built in 1884, Concord is officially a reformatory: the 400 men of Concord are almost all in their late teens or early twenties. In reality, it's just a young prisoners' Walpole. There's the same brute emphasis on security and forced labor. There is slightly less rebellion because the most vocal men at Concord are quickly shipped to Walpole.

Concord is a rotting hulk of a prison, with rats and vermin competing with the prisoners for places to sleep. On November 15, 1973, Concord held 424 prisoners but only 360 beds. As often happens, the extra 64 men were forced to sleep on cellblock or-, corridor floors. This situation continued throughout the winter.

Of the $4.4 million spent at Concord last year, $3.7 million went to the salaries of 299 staff members. (That's three staff members for every four prisoners.) Food expenditures came to $210,000, heat to $149,000. That left less than $300,000 in the budget for all other costs combined, including the cost of prison industries. Concord is supposed to have an auto mechanics course. But after eight years on the payroll, the automotive instructor still has not received money from the state for tools or a workshop.

Concord's 172 guards have taken part in the same type of sabotage of prison reform as their counterparts at Walpole. Ship-outs of prisoner leaders, lockups and visits from the State Police are used to terrorize the prisoners. Late in 1972, all prisoners were locked in their cells for 19 days before the threat of a Federal lawsuit forced an end to the lockup. Less than three weeks later, the guards' union at Walpole started a lockup there.

Nearly half of Concord prisoners are black, and the administration uses racism to divide the population. This is how one prisoner summed up the situation:

"The administration consciously keeps the cons split and self-seeking. It does that primarily through racism, which the younger fellows at Concord haven't got themselves enough together to know better than to fall for.

"The two basic prisoner groups at Concord are the JayCees and the Peaceful Movement Committee. Both are now thoroughly racist. Both groups have official sanction to operate and organize in the prison. The result has been that whites have gravitated to JayCees and blacks to Peaceful Movement. Rampant racism has never been so bad in any prison in the state as it is now in Concord."

Concord serves mainly as a breeding ground for future Walpole prisoners. Most men at Concord are in for burglary, robbery or drug offenses. Eighty percent are high school dropouts. When they leave Concord, they will only be more broke, less likely to find work, and more likely to end up in prison than they were before they arrived.


The Forestry Camps: Hard Labor and Isolation

The three prison forestry camps -- at Monroe, Warwick and Plymouth -- are Massachusetts' closest counterparts to the traditional chain gang. The camps were founded in the 1950's to build roads and picnic areas in the state forests. The camps also give aging guards a chance to finish out their careers in the woods instead of in cellblocks.

With a 1973 budget of $790,000, the three camps employ a total of 36 guards and three administrative workers, whose salaries eat up $576,000 of the budget. The director of prison camps made $17,500 last year and most of the guards are in the top salary bracket of $12,841 a year.

Rehabilitation doesn't even enter the picture. The prisoners, all transferred from other prisons, are there to work. There are no teachers, social workers, psychologists, doctors or other personnel at the camps. Just the prisoners and the guards. The guards' only job is to make sure the prisoners don't disappear into the forest.

The forestry camps are supposed to be a privilege for the men sent to them. But being out in the woods means isolation from friends and families. All the camps are further from the cities than the prisons are, and none of them can be reached by public transportation. Consequently, many prisoners get few visits.

Why the guards are needed at the camps is a bit of a mystery. The Plymouth camp, for example, has a supervisor and 13 guards to oversee 40 prisoners. Yet during the day the prisoners are put out to work under the supervision of state forest rangers, while at night they are either asleep or watching TV. Now that prisoners are also eligible for furlough and work release, the need for guards is even more mysterious.

The camps aren't counted as prison industries, but they do make a profit for the state. The per prisoner cost of running the camps is about $6,000 a year. But the prisoners' labor is worth $8,000 to $10,000 a year. (That's what anyone else would get for clearing roads or fighting forest fires.) The state must be making a profit of $2,000 to $4,000 a year on each prisoner.


Framingham: More Staff Than Prisoners

The women's prison at Framingham last year provided the guards' union and the administration their toughest challenge in recent years: how to protect the jobs of 143 permanent employees in a year when the prisoner population was as low as 50 or 60. The crisis was solved by the previously unthinkable act of going "coed."

In spite of the change, the population of Framingham in December, 1973, was still under 100. The number of employees stayed at 143, including 55 guards.

As at the forestry camps, the position of the guards at Framingham is becoming more and more difficult. With 30 to 35 prisoners going out every day on work release, the need for guards or dayshift personnel of any kind is minimal.

In addition to the guards, Framingham has 88 other employees of various kinds -- including a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, four assistant deputy superintendents, 19 clerical workers, six power plant engineers, and dozens of others such as plumbers, painters, truck drivers, and grounds keepers.

The prison hospital (for less than 100 prisoners) employs a doctor, ten nurses, a secretary and a lab technician. Total medical costs last year came to $159,079.

The prison doctor gets a full-time salary of $23,561, but spends less than an hour a day at the prison. When the doctor is not there, sick prisoners are frequently taken to an outside hospital by an ambulance service charging $38 a trip. The prison is then billed for both ambulance costs and the costs of outside medical care.

The situation is even worse in Framingham's prison industries section. Seven shop supervisors and three clerical workers are on state salary in the sewing shop, at a total cost of $70,000 a year. But in the last six months of 1973, there were no prisoners working in the shop.

As for the real needs of Framingham's prisoners, the administration doesn't even seem to know they exist. A large number of the women who go to Framingham have been busted for drug-related offenses. The prison has no drug rehabilitation program, and the two teachers on the staff offer only a secretarial course and limited tutoring. The needs of the staff determine what programs are offered at Framingham, not the needs of the prisoners.

The Parole Department: A Revolving Door

The Parole Department is separate from the Department of Correction, but the two work so closely that a few words on parole are needed here.

With a 1973 budget of $1.1 million, the Parole Department has 103 employees whose salaries take up more than $1 million of the budget. (In theory, the department is able to grant small amounts of money to parolees, but this rarely happens.) The Parole Board chairman gets $22,000 a year, while the six other members of the board get $17,000 each.

The Parole Department has two functions: letting prisoners out on parole and putting them back into prison once they have been on the street. Nearly half of the parolees who return to prison are returned for alleged parole violations. (A parole violation is anything the Board says it is such as quitting a job, getting drunk or leaving the state without permission.)

The Parole Board travels from prison to prison interviewing prisoners eligible for parole. Each prisoner sees the board for five or ten minutes and is then told whether parole is granted. When parole is denied, the board does not have to explain the denial.

Once on parole, each parolee is under the control of one of the department's 42 parole officers, whose salaries range from $11,600 to $14,600. The parole officers, who are almost always former guards, each have from 60 to 80 parolees to supervise. Theoretically, this supervision is supposed to be a form of assistance. The parole officer is supposed to act as a social worker helping the parolee stay on the street. Actually, parole officers often do their best to harass parolees and get them busted again.