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Shirley prison to add staff, union says

The union representing correctional officers said state officials have agreed to increase the number of guards patrolling the prison unit where the defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan was slain by a fellow inmate.

A union official said the Department of Correction agreed last week to increase staffing levels in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski Correction Center in Shirley. Correction officials are preparing to reopen the unit after months of lockdown prompted by Geoghan's killing.

Geoghan, 68, was strangled and beaten to death in his prison cell in August. An inmate who was serving a life sentence for murder has pleaded not guilty in the slaying.

The killing of Geoghan while he was housed in the protective custody unit sparked widespread criticism of the Department of Correction. A special commission investigating Geoghan's slaying and conditions at the prison is expected to release its report at the end of this month.

Since the killing, inmates in the unit have not been allowed to go outside or to the prison gymnasium.

Rob Brouillette, business agent for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, said the agreement to increase staffing was reached with state officials last week as part of the Department of Correction's plan to reopen the unit on Jan. 20.

When Geoghan was killed, the department staffed the unit with two officers for the two early shifts, but one of the officers was allowed to leave the unit to escort inmates to medical appointments and for other duties.

Under the new agreement, according to Brouillette, two officers will be in the unit at all times during the first two shifts, which run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Neither of the officers will be allowed to leave the unit.

Also, a third officer will be in the unit from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Brouillette said, although that officer will be allowed to go to other parts of the prison if needed.

The policy of having only one officer in the unit during the overnight shift -- when inmates are all locked in their cells -- will continue.

"We think it's great," Brouillette said of the deal. "We have been pushing for more staff."

Justin Latini, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said he could not immediately confirm the agreement and had no immediate comment.

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