By Christopher Zoukis

Three Massachusetts state prisoners have been placed in segregation in apparent retaliation for their prison reform activism.

Timothy Muise, Shawn Fisher and Steven James, all incarcerated at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, were taken from their cells late at night on March 23, 2016 and transferred to three different Massachusetts facilities, where they were all put in solitary confinement. While in solitary they had restricted access to phone calls and visits.

What do they have in common? They are all prison reform and prisoners’ rights advocates.

Muise, 52, and Fisher, 44, had recently organized meetings at MCI Shirley with members of the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state lawmakers that works to address the root causes of incarceration. Massachusetts Rep. Benjamin Swan, a leading member of the Caucus, described it as “A group of progressive legislators who see the need for some reform in the criminal justice system and corrections as well.”

Meetings sanctioned by MCI Shirley officials and attended by correctional staff were held at the prison in October 2015 and February 2016. Muise and Fisher organized the meetings and attended. While James, 39, did not attend, he has been a prominent advocate for prison reform.

A number of topics were discussed at the two meetings, including the overuse of solitary confinement in Massachusetts, low pay for incarcerated workers and the 22 deaths recorded at MCI Shirley the year before.

Muise and Fisher were in discussions with members of the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus to arrange travel to the statehouse to testify before the Public Safety Committee at the time they were transferred and placed in segregation. They did not receive their underwear or other personal items until 41 days later.

When asked by Solitary Watch, an advocacy organization, why the three prisoners were put in solitary, a DOC spokesperson said that pursuant to state law, prison officials were unable to publicly comment on the reasons why specific individuals were subjected to solitary confinement. However, people close to Muise, Fisher and James reported that DOC investigators had questioned them about a supposed plot to build a computer and “hack” into the DOC’s communications system. No evidence was produced to support the alleged plot.

“While there is a fairly clear appearance that Tim and the others were shipped out – and now locked up – because of their involvement in the meetings with legislators, it appears that they are looking for some other basis for bringing disciplinary charges against them,” Muise’s attorney, John Reinstein, told Solitary Watch.

Rep. Swan clearly suspected the possibility of retaliation by staff at MCI Shirley.

“How is it that a group of inmates can get in trouble for trying to see the governor?” he asked. Swan called on the Caucus, as well as the legislative Latino and Black Caucus, to meet with the state’s Executive Officer of Public Safety and Commissioner of Corrections to “give us some understanding as to why this is happening, and tell us if they think this is what should happen or if someone is overstepping their policy.”  

Sources: www.solitarywatch.com, www.rt.com

Originally published in Prison Legal News, September 2, 2016.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).