THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Geoghan panel will be expanded
Guards union, activists question current makeup
By Sean P. Murphy and Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 8/31/2003
As lawyers, prisoners' advocates, and the prison guards' union question the independence of the state-appointed panel slated to investigate the prison death of former priest John J. Geoghan, the Romney administration says it plans to add at least one new member with no ties to state law enforcement agencies.
David Shaw, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Public Safety, said new members would be added to the current panel, including at least one who has no ties to his office or the state Department of Correction.
The current panel includes Mark Delaney, a State Police major; Mark Reilly, the Department of Correction's chief of investigations; and George Camp, a corrections consultant who advises prison systems in other states and has a consulting contract, through a federal grant, with a national organization that does corrections work for states, including Massachusetts.
''I have no reason to question the good faith of three individuals, but what they've put together is essentially an internal investigation within the Department of Public Safety,'' said John Reinstein, legal director of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The makeup of the panel also was criticized by a spokesman for the 5,000-member correctional officers union, who said it has ''a management slant.''
''The union would support a truly independent probe,'' said Stephen Crawford of the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union.
Shaw said the Romney administration is ''very aware'' of concerns about the panel's composition, but said it did not prompt the decision to add new members. He said Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn mentioned plans to expand the panel in a news conference earlier this week, and had told Shaw in a private conversation that he intended to add an independent member.
An administration official familiar with discussions involving the panel's composition said officials have understood ''there was a problem'' with the panel's lack of independence.
''It's still in the very early organizational stages,'' the official, who asked not to be identified, said of the panel. ''They're grappling with how to do this. Everyone wants answers right now. But it's going to take time.''
The official said one possibility is to break the panel's mission into two parts: finding out what happened in the Geoghan slaying, and making recommendations for policy changes in the state prison system. Outsiders may be brought into the process in the recommendation phase, the official said.
Geoghan was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy. Allegations that he sexually assaulted nearly 150 youngsters helped spark the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church and led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law late last year.
Geoghan was beaten and strangled Aug. 23 in his cell in a maximum-security protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Authorities say he was killed by Joseph L. Druce, a convicted killer. Geoghan was transferred to Souza-Baranowski in April from a minimum-security protective unit at MCI-Concord, where his lawyers allege that prison guards harassed him so severely, even defecating on his bed, that the former priest welcomed the move.
State legislators are considering conducting an independent investigation, said one lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity. The legislator said the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee has asked the Department of Correction for information to help determine whether to launch its own probe.
John Fulton, chief of staff for the committee's chairman, Representative James H. Fagan, said the committee does not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations. In general, he said, it ''looks at systemic problems that may exist in a state agency.''
Questions remain about who will wield clout on the panel appointed by Romney. The ACLU's Reinstein and others said independent voices could be drowned out if a majority of members have state ties. Shaw said that Flynn, the public safety secretary, would have the final say on the panel's composition and the scope of its investigation.
Shaw said the investigation will look not just at how Geoghan ended up in the same protective custody unit with Druce, but also at Geoghan's time at MCI-Concord and the alleged abuse there.
The panel's mandate to dig into allegations of misconduct by prison employees is all the more reason for it to be led by outsiders, Reinstein said, adding that once the Romney administration decided not to handle the episode through the Correction Department's internal investigation system, the inclusion of Reilly ''is somewhat surprising.''
Shaw said Reilly was included to ''help facilitate the investigation from inside the Department of Correction.'' Shaw added that the State Police have no vested interest in the outcome of the probe, and that Flynn ''is confident in Major Delaney's ability to conduct and lead a fair and unbiased investigation.''
Although the State Police is separate from the Department of Correction, both agencies are overseen by the Executive Office of Public Safety, headed by Flynn.
Delaney has 29 years experience as an investigator in the attorney general's office, the Middlesex district attorney's office, and in his current assignment as head of the State Police's forensic services. He said Flynn gave him a single order: ''Find the facts.''
''I'm out to find out how these two inmates wound up in the same cell, what policies, decisions or events along the way put them in that cell together,'' he said in a telphone interview yesterday.
Delaney said he was aware of doubts publicly expressed about the panel's independence. ''I can assure you: we are professional, experienced fact-finders,'' he said. He added that he is still in the process of adding ''hand-picked'' investigators from the State Police ranks to the panel's staff.
''We are out to separate fact from fiction. Or goal is an honest, fair, and objective evaluation,'' he said.
Shaw called Camp ''an independent corrections expert'' and said his appointment ''demonstrates our commitment to bringing in outside ideas and voices.''
Shaw said Camp is well known to state correction officials because he and his company, Criminal Justice Institute of Middletown, Conn., have provided consulting services to the state under grants from the National Institute of Corrections, which is funded by the federal government and consults with states, including Massachusetts. He said Camp has no contracts directly with the state.
Camp did not return calls seeking comment. Requests for an interview with Reilly submitted to the corrections department went unanswered.
Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University, said Camp's level of independence would depend on his record and willingness to call for reform. He said it was appropriate to include both members of the prison system and outsiders, but added: ''Review boards of all kinds are suspect when they consist of members of the same profession they're evaluating. For the sake of objectivity and balance you would hope that at least one of the members has no connections at all to corrections.''
Levin said that regardless of the panel's makeup, it will face a challenge in coming up with ways to improve the prison system, where there are no easy answers and not enough money.
Even the narrowest issue the panel faces -- how to better run protective custody units, which include the prisoners most despised by other inmates, such as child molesters and informers -- is thorny, he said.
''It's almost impossible to supervise an inmate every moment, 24 hours a day, without imposing solitary confinement . . . a very severe punishment in itself,'' he said. ''So most prisoners would opt to take a risk.''
Marc R. Pacheco, who chairs the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, has asked the panel to brief him on the probe.
''Would I prefer a move independent investigation? Yeah, sure,'' Pacheco said. ''But at least for right now, we are giving them the benefit of the doubt.''
Howard Friedman, the lawyer who represented prisoners allegedly beaten by Suffolk County guards at Nashua Street Jail, called for the panel to include an ACLU lawyer, criminal defense lawyer, or other nongovernment lawyer.
''You want to have people who have as their point of view to look under the rocks and try to criticize, and not try to justify,'' he said.
Sean Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Anne Barnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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