Author: rjudge

Judge Gertner Speaks Out against Three Strikes Laws in Massachusetts

In a recent feature by WBUR, Harvard Law professor and retired U.S. District Court judge Nancy Gertner points out many of the flaws of Massachusetts’s proposed “Three Strikes” legislation.  She points out that the legislation would be far harsher on criminal defendants than it would need to be to accomplish its aims, would increase prison overcrowding and overincarceration, and is unnecessary at a time when Massachusetts crime rates are declining.

Importantly, Gertner notes that with this increased emphasis on mandatory sentencing the public is “trading judicial discretion for prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor chooses what the category of crime is, and therefore whether someone is going away for a long time. In a mandatory minimum situation, the judge is a bystander, and you know, there are wonderful prosecutors in this state but I would rather have a judge exercising discretion, subject to appeal and accountability, in a transparent way, rather than a prosecutor deciding that this is a three strikes case.”

Read or listen further here:


Featured in HLS Clinical Blog — A Window into PLAP in 1984

No one in PLAP today would be surprised to know that the organization has been full of fun people for decades. This posting by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs simply confirms our long history of good humor and great priorities.  Thirty years of foraging and counting!

Massachusetts Considers Raising the Age at which Defendants are Sentenced as Adults

Brandon Kennedy, who went to jail for 28 months on drug charges when he was 17.

Massachusetts is one of only 13 states where criminal cases involving 17-year-olds are handled in the adult justice system rather than juvenile justice system. Fortunately, though, this may change; the state legislature is considering a bill that would increase the age of criminal responsibility in Massachusetts to 18. This follows on the heels of a recent Citizens for Juvenile Justice Report showing that there is a 47 percent greater likelihood of a teen being arrested again if the adolescent is charged in the adult system versus the juvenile system. The report also said younger inmates are more likely to be sexually victimized.

Currently, 500 17-year-olds are sent to adult jails or prisons in Massachusetts every year.

Click here to read more and hear WBUR’s radio coverage.

TransCEND and MTPC Screening of “Cruel and Unusual”

Monday, November 14, 2011, 6:00 PM
AIDS Action Committee
75 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain (near the Jackson T stop)

Shot over three years, this high-definition documentary film tells the story of five transgender women housed in men’s prisons as they face rape, violence, solitary confinement and denial of medical care.  It challenges the viewer’s basic ideas about gender and justice through braids of poignantly graphic stories, vibrant landscape portraits and stark prison footage from across the United States.  A Transgender Awareness Week event.

For more information, visit or call TransCEND at (617)450-1102 or -1103

From Attica to Abolition: An Evening to Honor Edwin (Eddie) Ellis

Join the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice for an evening to honor the Attica prison uprising, explore prison abolition and honor Eddie Ellis, a living legend.

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 5:00 PM
Austin Hall, Ames Courtroom, Harvard Law School
1515 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Son of Jamaican immigrants, Ellis was born in Harlem, December 1941. At the age of twenty-five, he was director of Community Relations for the New York City branch of the Black Panther Party. In 1969, caught up in the infamous FBI operation which systematically attacked organizations like the Panthers and other radical groups, Ellis was arrested and accused of killing a man he had never before seen, had no connection to, and no motive for slaying. While serving a twenty-five year sentence in New York state prisons for a crime he did not commit (from 1969 to 1994), Ellis survived the Attica massacre and was a trailblazer for prison education. He continues to advocate for economic and social justice and is now spearheading policy reform across the nation. The event will include film clips and a panel discussion.

Hosted by Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.
Panel will include:
Soffiyah Elijah, Correctional Association of New York
Edwin (Eddie) Ellis, Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions
Kaia Stern, Prison Studies Project at Harvard University
Christopher Stone, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Including excerpts from the film The Last Graduation: The Rise and Fall of College Programs in Prison.

For more information, visit

New York Times piece highlights the damaging effects of solitary confinement

In a recent opinion piece in the the New York Times, Sarah Shourd connects her experience in Iran’s Evin Prison, where she was held in solitary confinement for 14 and a half months, to the use of solitary confinement in the United States.  Reflecting further on this piece, it is clear that policies around solitary confinement are a very real concern in Massachusetts, particularly, where we have one of the highest inmate suicide rates in the country — due at least in part to the overuse of solitary confinement in response to symptoms of mental illness.  This is a timely and important discussion, especially when placed in an international context as it is here.

Prisoners’ Legal Services Fundraiser and Film Screening – This Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Bingham McCutchen

Support PLS — which promotes the safe, humane and lawful treatment of Massachusetts prisoners through civil rights litigation, administrative advocacy, client counseling, and outreach to policy makers and the public — by attending their upcoming “Stemming the Tide” fundraising reception in downtown Boston. There will be remarks by by Judge Nancy Gertner, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, and Assistant House Majority Leader Charles Murphy.

Following the reception, there will be a screening of Cindy Firestone’s critically-acclaimed documentary “Attica.”  All are welcome to attend either or both portions of the event.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Reception: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Film and discussion: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Bingham McCutchen, One Federal Street, Boston, MA

Sponsors: Bingham McCutchen, Law Offices of Howard Friedman, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Rankin & Sultan, Salsberg and Schneider, Stern Shapiro Weissberg & Garin.

For more information, and to RSVP, visit

Harvard Law School Book Drive to Benefit the Prison Book Program

Starting Monday, October 24, the HLS Student Bar Association will be collecting books for prisoners through the Prison Book Program all week in the Hark. For more information on the types of books needed most and to learn more about the Prison Book Program, drop by our table, visit, or email