Anthony Mendonsa started as a guard in 1978 and worked his way up through the ranks; he was appointed superintendent at Souza-Baranowski in November 2011, then removed on June 8, 2012.
“Superintendents like Mr. Mendonsa serve at the pleasure of the commissioner,” said Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety. “The commissioner received information that led to Mendonsa being detached with pay pending an investigation. After that, he was removed and [retired on] June 30, 2012.”
State officials called Mendonsa’s removal a personnel matter and declined to comment further. Other officials and prisoner advocates who requested anonymity said Mendonsa’s abrupt departure was related to allegations of sexual harassment involving a female employee.
It is hoped that positive change will come with a new superintendent at Souza-Baranowski. “Massachusetts prisons are grossly overcrowded and at a breaking point,” said Leslie Walker, the executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. “Idleness and violence reign. If any prison in Massachusetts needs a leader who is fair, wise, and respectful to prisoners and staff, it is this facility.”
First opened in 1998, Souza-Baranowski, named after two guards killed during an escape attempt, is the state’s newest and most secure prison. It has a keyless security system that remotely opens and closes 1,705 doors. It is also an extremely violent place.
When double bunks were added in 2009, the number of assaults jumped nearly 50% from the previous year, accounting for a third of all assaults in the state’s prison system. Guards reported using force 377 times that year.
In 2010, the facility had 43 prisoner-on-staff assaults, three of which resulted in serious injuries. There were also 97 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults with 25 causing serious injury. According to Thomas Dickhaut, a former Souza-Baranowski superintendent who was stabbed in the face by a prisoner in 2009 – one of three superintendents who have been assaulted at the facility – there are three to five daily emergency warnings announced over the prison’s public address system.
“It’s a very difficult inmate population,” he said. Perhaps it would be less difficult if the facility was not overcrowded and had competent, professional leadership.
Three weeks after Mendonsa was removed as superintendent at Souza-Baranowski, a violent incident occurred in which a guard, Nathan Beauvais, 28, was stabbed in the neck and 6 or 7 other guards were injured.
Rarn Pak, the prisoner who used a shank to stab Beauvais, pleaded guilty to charges related to the attack and was sentenced in March 2013 to 42-45 years in prison. Pak’s cellmate, Soksoursdey Roeung, charged with armed assault with intent to murder and assault and battery on a corrections officer in connection with the incident, was convicted and sentenced to 18-23 years on November 5, 2013.
Bruce Gelb has been named the new superintendent at Souza-Baranowski; he previously served as superintendent of MCI Concord.
Sources: Boston Globe, Associated Press, www.nashobapublishing.com, www.telegram.com
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