Author: taylor

Coalition for Effective Public Safety Sends Letter to MA Government

On Tuesday, January 17, the Coalition for Effective Public Safety sent a letter to Chief Justice Gants, Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo, and Senate President Rosenberg expressing concern about the end of the Council of State Governments’ stay in Massachusetts.  CSG has been in the state since 2015, gathering information and preparing to propose draft legislation.  CEPS urges Massachusetts to request that CSG assist in forming legislative and executive policy proposals that will bring about reform and to request that it address the racial inequality of our criminal justice system in its report.

CEPS provides both legislative and executive policy recommendations.  Their legislative recommendations are the elimination of mandatory minimums for drug offenses, increased availability and utilization of diversion, compassionate release for elderly and dying prisoners, and presumptive parole.  Their executive agency recommendations are reform of the DOC classification system, more parole releases, increased funding for education, health services, and programming, an end to lengthy stays in solitary confinement, and a prioritization of racial inequity.  The letter is signed by 62 local organizations, including the ACLU of Massachusetts.  For more information, see the ACLU’s press release.

PLAP Student Attorneys Visit Prison

Last semester, new student attorneys visited MCI Cedar Junction, the reception center for male offenders in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.  The tour guide brought the group through multiple areas of the prison, including the cells, the visiting area, and the Department Disciplinary Unit.

The tour of the cells went by two different sections–one area for new inmates who are at Cedar Junction temporarily while they are assigned to a permanent placement, and one for inmates who have been placed in the facility longer-term.  New inmates’ cells are more open, with bars instead of a door, while inmates who will be staying at Cedar Junction have more privacy–a solid door with a window.  In the visiting area, there  are sections  for both contact and non-contact visits.  While a contact visit allows the prisoner and visitor to sit with one another without a barrier and to have some physical contact, a non-contact visit involves the use of phones on either side of a glass partition.

Cedar Junction, a maximum security facility, also houses the Department Disciplinary Unit, or DDU, for the entire Department of Corrections.  One DDU Correctional Officer spoke about his experiences with these prisoners, who are often restricted from having contact with one another.  These inmates remain in individual cages when they are brought outside, but sometimes fights break out anyway if one inmate reaches through to another.  The CO described breaking up these fights, occasionally by using “chemical agent.”  The tour group also saw the DDU’s therapy area, which is furnished with therapeutic modules.  These modules are essentially cages that allow for group therapy programs while keeping the prisoners separated from the facilitator and each other.  Student Attorney Anca Gabriela Bunda says, “The experience of visiting the DDU unit, where prisoners are put in solitary confinement, was also very eye-opening and has made me more motivated to work with PLAP.”

This was many students’ first trip to a prison.  It is important for student attorneys to gain an understanding of their clients’ lives and situations before they represent them in hearings.  Student attorney Laurel Fresquez says, “my experience was interesting with the prison. I’ve never been to one before and had no idea what to expect. It was nice to get some context…It just really reinforced that the prisoners are people who have rights that need protecting.”



MA Sex Offenders Suing Department of Corrections

A group of plaintiffs filed a civil suit on Monday, October 17th arguing that the civil commitment process for some sex offenders in Massachusetts has violated state law.  In a civil commitment, sex offenders deemed “sexually dangerous” may be held at the Massachusetts Treatment Center after the completion of their prison sentences.  The DOC is required to release detainees when they are no longer deemed dangerous, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that they were detained past this date.  The lawsuit seeks an end to the practice of keeping detainees past their ordered release date as well as $5 million in damages.  Read more about the lawsuit and the plaintiffs on the Boston Globe.

Nationwide Prison Strike Enters Second Month

Inmates in prisons across the country have been striking since September 9th, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison riots.  Prisoners are utilizing both labor strikes and hunger strikes to protest mass incarceration and prison labor conditions.  One organization heavily involved in the strike, the Free Alabama Movement, issued a press release highlighting the use of underpaid or unpaid prison labor by governments and corporations.  As the strike has continued, inmates in multiple states have reported retaliation and harsh treatment in response to their actions, including solitary confinement of organizers and the use of tear gas and riot gear.

In Massachusetts, inmates at Souza-Baranowski correctional center staged a peaceful protest on September 8th in response to new proposed regulations regarding visitation and communication.  One such regulation would limit the number of visitors on each inmate’s pre-approved visitor list to five at a time.  Advocates argue that these regulations interfere with prisoners’ ability to stay connected to their family and community support systems.

New WBUR Series Addresses Parole for Juvenile Lifers

On Thursday, September 8, WBUR released the second half of its two-part series on the release of juvenile lifers–people who were sentenced to life in prison before the age of 18.  The series follows two Massachusetts men, Greg Diatchenko and Joe Donovan, who have recently been released on parole after spending decades in prison.  PLAP is one organization in the state representing juvenile lifers like Diatchenko and Donovan before the parole board.

Read or listen at WBUR.

Wilfred Dacier’s Parole Denial is an ADA Violation, says Joel Thompson

On Wednesday, the Lowell Sun published an article by Jean Trounstine discussing the case of Wilfred Dacier.  The Massachusetts Parole Board granted Dacier parole in 2010, specifying that he would need to be released to a DMH facility for inpatient care.  When DMH found that Dacier did not actually require inpatient care, he was denied parole.

Read the full article here.

Clinton Selects a Former PLAPper to be her Running Mate

tim kaine official congres photo

On Friday, July 22, Democratic presidential nominee announced her running mate, Tim Kaine.  Kaine is a current U.S. Senator, a former Virginia governor, and a graduate of Harvard Law School.  He is also a PLAP alum, having worked on the project throughout his time in law school.  Senator Kaine met his wife Anne Holton while the two were at Harvard and working at PLAP .  Read more about Senator Kaine’s time at Harvard Law School in the Boston Globe, and head over to the New York Times to see  the Kaines in PLAP’s 1983 Harvard Law School yearbook photo.

House Fails to Pass Conditional Medical Release Bill


(Photo credit)

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.”