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Reactions mixed to sex offenders in Devens prison
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DEVENS – Recent stories from a variety of news outlets about low- to high-level sex offenders living at the Devens Federal Medical Center (FMC Devens) have touched off complaints from at least one local official, two senators and a congressman and alarmed area residents.

FMC Devens is an administrative facility housing male offenders who require specialized or long-term medical or mental health care, according to the Bureau of Prisons Web site. The facility has a satellite camp housing minimum security male inmates (prison security levels are minimum, low, high and administrative).

Initial shock to the Devens area came from a Jan. 18 Boston Herald article reporting that FMC Devens housed Matthew A. Mancuso, a man who adopted a five-year-old Russian girl to be his sex slave.

According to the report, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, of Georgia, has vowed to find out why Mancuso was referred to Devens.

The Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) at Devens was initiated over a year ago and now treats 459 offenders, prison spokesman John Colautti was quoted as saying.

Ayer Selectman Chairman Faye Morrison was also quoted, saying her town should have known about SOMP in case something happens.

This week Morrison expanded on her viewpoint.

“All of us would have felt more comfortable if we could have been notified,” she said. “We have questions from residents, which I receive, whether these persons have been released. I want to be sure information is flowing both ways.

“It’s an issue when I can’t answer a resident’s concerns,” she said. “It’s primarily the chief’s job but if a resident walks up to me and asks and I say ‘no,’ it’s not good for any of us,” Morrison said. “There’s no registry (of sex offenders) available to the public.

“The (system) unfortunately depends on predators reporting in themselves,” she said. “You don’t want to make them pariahs because they are serving their time but we’re entitled to (information). It would be nice to know that someone isn’t working 200 yards from my school.

“In (hurricane) Katrina, there were seven (sex offenders) on the Cape and we didn’t know,” she said.

Ayer police Chief Richard Rizzo said his town is home to 14 Level 2 sex offenders and three Level 3 offenders, with one or two more working in the community.

“I received no notification of the Level 3’s at Devens,” Rizzo said.

“I don’t want to minimize the matter but the prison is a very secure place,” he said. “It is a medium or maximum security facility, but like any, it is subject to problems. More of a concern is the Level 3 offenders living or working in town, yet they have to live and work somewhere.

“It’s my understanding that the protocol in the federal prison is very well planned,” Rizzo said. “There are six protocols. The (prison administration) calls in local police departments every year to watch them work on practice drills. We’re on the first-to-be-notified list.”

FMS Devens is physically located on land that was once Harvard and is close to Shirley.

Harvard Police Chief Edward Denmark was not available for comment prior to press time but Shirley Police Chief Paul Thibodeau said no one has voiced any concerns in Shirley.

“There have been no problems, no recurrences. The town of Shirley has no Level 3’s. We have the federal prison right behind us, medium and maximum security. I have no concerns,” Thibodeau said.

Twelve Level 2 sex offenders live in Shirley and four live in Harvard (by comparison, nine Level 2 and three Level 3’s live or work in Pepperell, seven Level 2 offenders live in Townsend, and Groton hosts four Level 2 offenders.

Morrison said “federal electives” such as Rep. Marty Meehan’s chief of staff called her to share her concerns about the protocol at FMC Devens and it would be “nice to be kept in the loop.” She said the Meehan staffer was looking forward to improving communications with prisons.

“I haven’t heard from Resor (Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton) or Jamie (Rep. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton),” Morrison said. “Quite honestly, I left it in Marty’s hands and I’m sure he’ll do a great job of checking into it.”

Meehan is quoted in a Jan. 30 Lowell Sun article as saying residents have a “right to know” and that he is concerned “about the lack of community awareness and the fact they did not go through a process to inform the residents of Ayer and the surrounding communities.”

The Sun reported that Meehan and Sen. John Kerry have asked Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to transfer Mancuso to a maximum security prison.

In Oct. 20, 2004 editions of Nashoba Publishing newspapers, the public was informed about the start of the sexual offender program at Devens.

Mark Shaughnessey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 222, said in a story about prison layoffs, “Devens is called a medical facility but now the Bureau of Prisons has started a Sexual Offender Management Program at Devens and we’ll obtain 400 or so for that program, everything from pedophiles to rapists, major-type offenders.”

MassDevelopment Vice President Meg Delorier had been quoted in the Boston Herald as saying MassDevelopment was aware of the sex offender program but she couldn’t say who else knew.

“I don’t know who had read the (Nashoba Publishing’s) newspaper,” Delorier explained Tuesday. “The prison had (also) fliered the neighborhood.

“We are very comfortable with the way the facility is operated. The prison doesn’t notify us of any of the inmates (but) we have a great working relationship with Warden Winn and his staff,” she said.

“Chief Garrity (Devens Fire Chief and Public Safety Officer Thomas Garrity) will tell you he is very comfortable with the training and relationship. There have been no incidents.”

Noting that an assistant warden and Colautti had attended the Jan. 21 open disposition forum she facilitated for Devens residents, Delorier said MassDevelopment is “very pleased” with the proactive approach taken toward the community by prison officials.

Devens residents at this week’s Devens Committee (DC) meeting said they remembered Colautti calling attention to alleged inaccuracies in the Boston-based news story but that the subject matter got their attention.

“I was a little surprised at the news,” said DC member Thomas Kinch.

“I knew we had bad people but not that bad,” said DC Chairman Michael Boucher.

“It’s more an issue of not being told,” said DC member David Winters.

“They are bad people and they’re right where bad people belong,” said DC member Phillip Crosby.

According to one FMC Devens prisoner in a Blog on the Web site www.prisontalk.com, the prison is segregated into two units; a medical camp and the actual lockdown prison. The medical camp provides a complete array of health services.

“Inmates housed in the medical camp are allowed free movement throughout the facility and the mood is generally relaxed,” he wrote. “Violence is not tolerated in the medical camp. Those exhibiting violent behavior are transferred to the actual lockdown prison.”

It was the prisoner’s lawyer who had informed him that effective July 10, 2004, the FMC Devens mission changed from providing drug rehabilitation treatment to specialty treatment for sex offenders who would be segregated in a special housing unit (SHU) in the lockdown section.

According to another prisoner’s Blog, the explanation is accurate except that FMC Devens Camp is “far from being a medical camp even (if) one has ever existed.”

He wrote that sex offenders are not segregated in a special housing unit. Rather they “dominate the main compound, walk the yard, live in general housing…”