State Representative Michael S. Day raises alarms about Governor Charlie Baker’s implementation of criminal justice reforms

Irina Baranova

Day’s nine-page letter outlining these sins of omission is actually addressed to Public Safety Secretary Terrence Reidy, but the Stoneham Democrat posits his own theory about who is calling the shots.

“The Legislature is well aware of the governor’s objections to certain aspects of recent landmark laws, both through the amendments he returned to bills as well as through legislation the administration later filed,” Day wrote.

Those objections and amendments track with “some disturbing instances of noncompliance,” Day adds.

High on the list — for some time now — has been what some lawmakers consider an end-run around the state’s landmark 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act in the way the Department of Correction has addressed solitary confinement.

“The [Judiciary] Committee has learned that a number of DOC facilities and Houses of Correction have now instituted housing practices which result in the solitary confinement of inmates for up to 21 ½ hours a day, thereby evading the protections, limits, and transparency required for inmates held for just 30 minutes longer.”

The law also forbids prisoners with serious mental illness from being subjected to restrictive housing — defined as 22 hours a day of solitary confinement — but is silent on that sub-22 minute condition. Day wants an accounting of exactly how many inmates in DOC custody since December 2020 were restricted to in-cell time for more than 20 hours a day but less than 22 hours for more than two consecutive days.

Bridgewater State Hospital, a medium-security facility for men suffering from mental illness who have been ordered incarcerated, civilly committed, or are being held pending trial, was similarly cited by Day as circumventing “legal protections and reporting requirements” in its use of “chemical restraints” — injections of potent drug cocktails — to subdue inmates, as documented by the Disability Law Center in its January report. The center has been tasked by both a court settlement and the Legislature with oversight responsibilities.

How did it come to pass, Day wants to know, that Wellpath, a private, for-profit contractor running the facility, administered “at least 370 ‘Emergency Treatment Orders’ ” on inmates without reporting those to DOC?

Other lapses cited in the letter include:

▪ Failure “to implement the technology needed” that would allow “a statewide uniform cross-tracking system for individuals involved with the criminal justice system” as required by the 2018 law. In fact, regulations for data cross-tracking were promulgated only last December.

▪ Failure to “adequately mitigate significant mold problems” found throughout Bridgewater State Hospital.

▪ Failure of the State Police Crime Lab to meet statutorily imposed deadlines for testing rape kits collected prior to enactment of the criminal justice law.

That testing process is ongoing, albeit at a glacial pace. The Executive Office of Public Safety and the crime lab noted in its most recent quarterly report that the agencies “look forward to the continuing work of testing all eligible untested investigatory” rape kits “in the coming year.”

A spokesperson for the EOPSS says the agency is “in the process of developing a robust response” to the Day letter that outlines the agency’s “significant and continued progress toward the comprehensive implementation of criminal justice reforms.”

Day, on behalf of the Judiciary Committee, is also engaging in a back-and-forth with the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, set up under the police reform law, about whether, in fact, a regulation they promulgated actually prohibits choke holds — as required by the law — or only seems to prohibit them.

One section of those regulations reads:

“Except to temporarily gain, regain, or maintain control of an individual and apply restraints, a law enforcement officer shall not intentionally sit, kneel, or stand on an individual’s chest, neck, or spine, and shall not force an individual to lie on their stomach.”

That “temporarily” might not be the nine minutes it took to kill George Floyd, but it certainly looks like, as Day’s letter calls it, “a clear subversion” of the law’s “prohibition on choke holds.”

Enrique Zuniga, executive director for the POST Commission, said the commission is “evaluating” the best way to address Day’s concerns, a process complicated by the fact that the regulations are drafted in conjunction with the Municipal Police Training Committee.

These fixes shouldn’t wait. When new and trailblazing laws are passed, politicians and advocates too often pat each other on the back and move on. But reforms are only as good as those willing to enforce them and those committed to make them work — not just on paper but on the ground.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.

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