On Wednesday, July 13, 2016, the Massachusetts Senate passed “An Act relative to Medical Placement of Terminal and Incapacitated Inmates”. This Act would have allowed for conditional medical parole of inmates with a terminal illness or permanent incapacitation, allowing them to receive medical or palliative care outside of the prison system.
The process would have required a county Sheriff or correctional facility Superintendent to recommend someone for conditional medical parole. The inmate would then have a hearing before the Parole Board to determine whether parole would be granted. The parole was conditional and would have been revoked if the inmate was to recover.
The bill then moved on to the House of Representatives for consideration. As of July 18, 2016, it had been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill was not taken up in session, however, and therefore was not passed before session ended on Sunday, July 31 . Passing this bill would have helped Massachusetts catch up with the 45 other states that currently have similar programs in place.
Attorney Joel Thompson had the following comment:
“I was thrilled to see the Senate pass a bill that would bring Massachusetts into line with 45 other states and the federal prison system, by giving state and county prison officials the ability to seek an appropriate placement outside of a correctional facility for prisoners who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated. The challenge was significant, as this bill lacks the kind of widespread interest seen with some other criminal justice proposals. The management of dying and debilitated prisoners is neither a popular nor a pleasant topic, and it ultimately affects very few people. That reality made PLAP’s involvement in this policy debate all the more important.
PLAP testified in favor of this bill based on the first-hand experiences of PLAPpers, who have represented the ill and the infirm, from terminal cancer patients to bedridden prisoners with dementia. Not infrequently these prisoners receive disciplinary reports for behavior that is entirely attributable to their medical condition. Such cases illustrate how prisons simply are not designed to manage these prisoners and their significant needs, yet Massachusetts does not allow Sheriffs or the Department of Correction to seek out a placement in a long term care facility or home hospice, under appropriate supervision. PLAP identified the practical importance of making such a tool available.
While we ran out of time during this legislative session for the bill to reach a vote in the House, we see the Senate’s passage of the bill as an important step forward, one which will give us momentum heading into the next session. I know PLAPpers will again step up to educate lawmakers about the bill and to advocate for its passage.”