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Prison expert: Priest's killing not a surprise

Prison advocate Jim Pingeon:
Prison advocate Jim Pingeon: "Mr. Geoghan was a man who lived in constant fear."

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(CNN) State officials said Monday that they would conduct two investigations into the weekend strangling death of defrocked priest John Geoghan by a fellow prisoner, who allegedly plotted for more than a month to kill Geoghan and considered him "a prize."

One investigation will look into the circumstances surrounding the killing, and the other will focus on whether prison procedures and staffing should be changed, District Attorney John Conte said.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper talked about the attack with prison advocate Jim Pingeon, who is an attorney with the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which represented Geoghan.

COOPER: What do we know so far about the former priest's death?

PINGEON: My understanding is that another inmate entered his cell and strangled him and beat him to death in a very ferocious and brutal killing.

COOPER: You and your organization have been in contact with Geoghan for about a year or so. He had been transferred to the Souza-Baranowski Prison outside Boston. Did he like this facility? Did he feel safer here?

PINGEON: He felt somewhat safer than he had at [the prison in] Concord where he had been previously. But Mr. Geoghan was a man who lived in constant fear and had a very difficult existence in prison, both because of fear of attack by other prisoners and because of fear of mistreatment by prison staff.

COOPER: You work with a prison advocacy group. You no doubt know a lot about prisons, the way they work. Does it surprise you that someone in protected custody could be murdered?

PINGEON: Unfortunately, we were not at all surprised by what happened. We have long viewed the protective-custody units in the department of correction as a disaster waiting to happen.

COOPER: Why are they a disaster?

PINGEON: Well, because prisoners don't feel safe in the protective-custody units. They feel that they're at risk from attacks from other prisoners and they are at risk of mistreatment by guards.

COOPER: I still don't understand, though, how prison officials could have allowed this to happen. It's my understanding there was one guard on duty at the time. Talk a little about how the protective-custody units are set up.

PINGEON: Well, the purpose of a protective-custody unit is to separate the most vulnerable prisoners from the general prison population to prevent assaults and attacks of inmates on inmates.

One of the problems with the system is that it contains a mixed population because there aren't enough protective-custody units in Massachusetts, so that some of the prisoners on the unit are people who have committed very aggressive violent crimes, such as Mr. [Joseph] Druce, who is alleged to have murdered Mr. Geoghan.

And others like Mr. Geoghan, are very vulnerable, elderly, defenseless, prisoners, and these two people, these two types of people, are housed together on the same unit, and we think that's a serious problem.

COOPER:Why is it that in prison, child molesters are considered the lowest of the low?

PINGEON: Well, it is the culture of the prison system. I think it's not that different from society as a whole.

There is a general revulsion towards child molesters. And that revulsion is experienced by prisoners, perhaps it's because many of them are victims of child sexual abuse themselves and feel anger towards people who have committed that kind of crime. Perhaps it's the similar to what the general public feels.


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