by Jordan Arizmendi
Just outside the hearing room of Rhode Island’s House Judiciary Committee on April 4, 2023, a witness supporting a proposed law to limit the use of solitary confinement in state prisons said he was collared by the head of the state prison guard’s union, who then used Mafia tactics to intimidate him.
The witness, who identified himself as a state taxpayer not involved with any advocacy group, reported that Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers President Richard Ferrucio said, “Oh yeah, I saw your testimony last year in the Senate and I found your phone number, and I found your address, and I looked at your house. What a nice house you have.”
Ferrucio was referring to a hearing before the state Senate Judiciary Committee on April 7, 2022, when it was considering its own version of solitary reform. After it was introduced by state Sen. Jonathan Acosta (D-Pawtucket), the committee ended up tabling S2631 “for further study.” It died at the end of the 2022 legislative session.
The House version of the law was introduced by another Pawtucket Democrat, state Rep. Leonela Felix, on March 17, 2023. H6161 would establish an oversight committee to monitor solitary confinement in the state Department of Corrections (DOC). The bill would also establish rules for when solitary confinement may be used and limit stays to a maximum 22 hours per day.
Members of Ferrucio’s union oppose the reform, insisting the threat of isolation is needed to bring prisoners to heel and prevent assaults – especially on staff. However, research shows that prisons using solitary confinement do not see less violence than others, and they may in fact see more. The practice has also been shown to increase recidivism and lower health outcomes after release. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.1.]
Ferrucio has been accused of intimidation before. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it took up S2631 in April 2022, he brought along prison disciplinary records for several state prisoners who appeared in support of the bill, attempting to undermine their testimony. Of course, those records are not public – meaning Ferrucio had no right to publicize them.
To date he hasn’t been disciplined for the document dump, nor for the wise-guy tactics he used on a private citizen exercising his right to address state lawmakers.
Sources: The Nation, Uprise RI
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