Bias concerns are raised in Geoghan probe
By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/3/2003
As the court case was publicized yesterday by a prisoners' advocacy group, the cochairmen of the Legislature's Committee on Public Safety announced they would conduct hearings on Geoghan's death once the state Executive Office of Public Safety concludes its investigation.
Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat, said he called Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn yesterday to invite him to present the panel's work, once completed, to the committee. He declined to say what Flynn said, and a spokeswoman for Flynn said she did not know what the secretary thought of a legislative role in the Geoghan case.
Barrios said he and Representative Timothy J. Toomey Jr., a Cambridge Democrat who is the committee's cochairman, agreed to call academics, Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, and others to appear at the hearing and scrutinize the panel's work.
"We're are going to look at all their work very carefully," Toomey said.
In a March 2002 ruling excluding reports prepared by prison consultant George Camp in a case brought by an inmate, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald criticized a survey Camp conducted as part of his research as "biased," and found that "not only are Camp's conclusions baseless, the graphs and charts he created . . . are misleading and are thoroughly unhelpful."
Camp, a former New York state corrections official and a longtime consultant to corrections officials in many states, did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment on last year's federal court case.
A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, which is overseeing the Geoghan investigation, declined to comment, saying she was unfamiliar with the case.
In a prepared statement, Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services said, "The panel that Governor Romney has appointed is unacceptable," and called for "a genuinely independent and credible panel that the public can confidently assume will conduct a thorough investigation."
In last year's US District Court case, Camp's report was offered as evidence to defend the New York Department of Correctional Services in a lawsuit filed by an inmate who challenged a ban of literature on a religious group known as the Nation of Gods and Earths, or the Five-Percenters.
The New York prison administrators contended that the group was a dangerous "gang," and that recognition of it as legitimate was a threat to prison security.
Camp's report was submitted to back up the prison administrator's position by suggesting that fewer incidents of disruption occurred following the ban. His report analyzed thousands of incident reports provided by New York prison administrators and included a survey of the administrators.
Buchwald called that survey biased and quoted from Camp's letter in her decision: "Dear Members, we need your help. We are defending the NYS Department of Correctional Services in a case that involves their policy on intercepting Five-Percenter literature. Your answers to the following questions will be helpful to us in preparing a defense."
"The trustworthiness of survey evidence depends in part on an assurance of objectivity in the information gathering process," Buchwald wrote. Camp's survey, she added, was "subjective and biased, and results therefore do not bear the indicia of trustworthiness."
Buchwald also criticized Camp's analysis of incident reports. "We conclude that the conclusions drawn in the Camp report are both misleading and based on unreliable methodology," she wrote.
The Romney administration, in launching an investigation of Geoghan's Aug. 23 death in a protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, has said Camp's inclusion on the three-member investigative panel gave an "independent" voice to the group.
Lawyers, prisoners' advocates, and the prison guards' union have criticized the composition of the panel, calling it an in-house investigation. Besides Camp, the panel includes Mark Delaney, a State Police major, and Mark Reilly, head of investigations for the Department of Correction. Although the State Police and the Department of Correction are separate agencies, they are overseen by the Executive Office of Public Safety.
The 2002 federal court case was found by James R. Pingeon, litigation director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.
"Biased and unreliable is not a stamp of approval," he said.
The organization also described cases involving five inmates whose abuse was abetted by guards. The cases, which do not include names of those inmates making the allegations, depict guards as encouraging and even "paying" inmates in cigarettes to attack and beat other inmates.
Justin Latini, a Department of Correction spokesman, said he had not seen the allegations and declined to comment.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.