Officials say strides made in security

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff  |  February 16, 2005

Paul Shanley will probably enter the Massachusetts prison system the same way most inmates do, with a trip along Route 2 and passage through the old-fashioned gates of the state prison in Concord, officials said. There he will be interviewed about his medical and social history, evaluated by a psychologist, strip-searched, and locked up alone for as long as a month until prison officials determine where he can be safely housed.

Yet following the 2003 slaying of Paul Geoghan, a former priest convicted of sexual abuse, Shanley will probably be monitored much more closely than has previously been done.

Inmates convicted of sex crimes against children are generally considered to be at the greatest risk of being attacked by other inmates. Authorities allege that inmate Joseph Druce told Geoghan, ''No more children for you, pal" as he strangled him with a noose two years ago.

Correction Commissioner Kathleen M. Dennehy, said yesterday that she could not discuss Shanley or any other particular inmate, but that after Geoghan's slaying, the department significantly increased supervision of its two protective custody units. Now, before a new inmate is introduced into a protective custody unit, the records of all the prisoners there are scoured for a possible conflict. After Geoghan's slaying, prison officials were criticized for housing him in the same unit as Druce, who had professed a hatred of child molesters.

Dennehy said there are now weekly reviews of all inmate files to root out any conflicts.

''That was one of the first things we changed," Dennehy said.

Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, said he expects that Shanley, like Geoghan, will eventually be housed in one of the protective custody units, either in Concord or in Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Inmates of the units have most of the privileges of the general prison population, he said, but they are cut off from contact with anyone but one another.

Staffing shortages still undercut inmate safety in the protective custody units, Kenneway said, but high-risk inmates are now generally safer than they were before the Geoghan slaying. He also said correction officers are now armed with a new tool.

When he strangled Geoghan, officials have said, Druce blocked the door to the cell by forcing a homemade wedge into the tracks of its sliding door. The new tool given to guards, Kenneway said, slides under the door and allows them to clear obstructions.