Author: wossoff (page 1 of 2)

The Group Protest That Wasn’t


By: Megan Corrigan (’22) & Jack Lubin (’22)

Our client is a community organizer, and he is great at what he does. For the past 10 years, he has organized successful celebrations for Black History Month, Kwanzaa, and Juneteenth, as well as information sessions about knowing your legislators and more. He does all of this work from behind the wall of a medium-security prison. Despite the challenges, our client holds popular events with well-known guests, ranging from elected officials to intellectual and religious leaders, as well as community-based nonprofit organizations. They come out to celebrate African American heritage alongside incarcerated people, a rare opportunity for those within and those without to make a meaningful connection.

Not rare enough, evidently, for prison officials. Our client’s events are planned in accordance with prison rules and regulations and, of course, require institutional approval. Two Decembers ago, when planning the popular and highly anticipated annual Kwanzaa Commemoration, our client ran up against ever-shifting institutional boundaries that have by now become commonplace. Over the years, notwithstanding the popularity of these events, the prison assigned them to smaller spaces and reduced the maximum number of attendees. This year’s Kwanzaa Commemoration was no different; the celebration’s capacity would be even more sharply limited than usual.

No explanation was given for the new capacity limits. No claim was made that the larger events of past years were unsafe. A smaller Kwanzaa event would not be safer; it would only be smaller, and less available to people in prison. More people wanted to attend than could be admitted. When several prisoners asked our client why they would not be able to attend the celebration, he informed them of the prison’s decision limiting the size of the room. Understandably, people began to react.

How did they react? There was no riot, no sit-in, no gathering to protest the smaller gathering. Instead, incarcerated people who were left out of the Kwanzaa Commemoration filled out a grievance form and submitted it. The grievance process is designed to field, investigate, and respond to concerns raised by people in prison about the conditions of their confinement. Prisoners are instructed to make their voices heard through this mechanism. The “grievance process,” according to the Massachusetts regulation establishing it, “promotes problem resolution and provides inmates with a means to address their concerns in a responsible manner, thus enhancing skills for successful re-entry”, a lesson aimed at preventing recidivism. In practice, our clients experience a process that mainly offers procedural hurdles and a cursory denial of relief.

Despite their well-founded skepticism, dozens of prisoners who were left out of the Kwanzaa event filed grievance forms about the attendance restrictions. The prison’s response was not to look into ways to accommodate more attendees, or indeed to evaluate the concerns raised at all. It responded by placing our client in solitary confinement. Twelve days later, he was released from solitary confinement but issued a disciplinary report, charging him with “inciting a group demonstration.”

We represented the client at his disciplinary hearing. No evidence of incitement was ever presented, nor was there any group demonstration that our client could be said to have incited.  Individuals who had been denied access to the Kwanzaa event registered their disapproval via the grievance process. Thankfully, the hearing officer saw no violation either; our client was found not guilty and avoided further punishment.

We took this case on while taking our first-year criminal law class, in which our professors asked us to consider the purposes that our criminal justice system aims to serve. That question remained on our minds as we prepared for the hearing. What purpose was served by throwing our client into a solitary cell for 12 days? Or by charging him with inciting a group demonstration? Who was made safer? Safer from what?

Prison officials took an assembly designed to educate and uplift its participants, and not for the first time, they limited access to it. Prisoners who were denied entry responded not with shouts or weapons but with pen and paper. They complained in writing, using the designated procedure for resolving complaints. Prison officials interpreted these complaints – a stack of forms – as a “group demonstration,” punished the event organizer for them, and then sought even more punishment.

Why? It seems that in prison, one unwritten rule controls: prisoners will not be treated like human beings. Through that lens, it becomes easier to understand why officials view the act of prisoner expression as such a grave threat – whether an expression and celebration of shared tradition, or the expression of disagreement with a policy. Self-expression humanizes, and humanizing is not part of the mission.

This post is part of a series that highlights the work of PLAP student attorneys defending clients who face discipline for acts of expression.

PLAP Team Victorious at Massachusetts Appeals Court

On March 22, students from Harvard PLAP won a ruling from the Massachusetts Appeals Court that will improve access to courts for incarcerated people challenging the discipline that is meted out against them. The Appeals Court held that the sixty-day statute of limitations for such challenges runs from the date that the Department of Correction (DOC) serves its final decision on a prisoner, not an earlier date of its choosing. Richard Brooks v. Department of Correction. 

Plaintiff Richard Brooks appealed to the Superior Court from a guilty finding in a prison disciplinary hearing under a Massachusetts statute that permits judicial review of such proceedings. The statute calls for an “action in the nature of certiorari” to be filed “within sixty days next after the proceeding complained of.” M.G.L. c. 249 s. 4. The Massachusetts Department of Correction sought dismissal of the complaint, arguing that the sixty-day clock started to run not when it issued notice of the disciplinary decision, but three days earlier, when the prison superintendent dated her decision. The Superior Court agreed, even though the DOC had taken no action on that day to inform anyone of the decision, and even though the agency’s own decision form prominently featured the date of service, in its headings and in a final line confirming the date of service. 

PLAP students Madeleine DeMeules (‘21), Lena Melillo (‘22), and Matthew Disler (‘21) took charge of the appeal on Mr. Brooks’s behalf, supervised by Managing Attorney Joel Thompson. They developed the arguments and prepared the brief as a team in the spring of 2020, despite having to work remotely during the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Matthew Disler argued the appeal, after preparing with his fellow team members and with the generous assistance of the Honorable John Cratsley (Ret.), Director of the HLS Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, who led a moot argument. 

The PLAP team’s efforts paid off, as the Appeals Court found its arguments persuasive. The court saw no basis for the notion that the statute of limitations should begin to run before the Department of Correction issues notice of its decision to the prisoner. “Indeed, under the department’s rationale, agencies could deprive parties of all opportunity to seek certiorari review through the expedient of waiting for the sixty days to expire before issuing notice, an outcome that the court found “illogical.” The court also noted that the DOC’s own regulation governing disciplinary proceedings calls for the prison superintendent not only to decide the disciplinary appeal but also to notify the prisoner in writing. 103 CMR § 430.18.  

Mr. Brooks will now finally be heard on the merits of his complaint in the Superior Court. DeMeules, Melillo, and Disler look forward to presenting his claima challenge to the DOC’s punishment of Mr. Brooks for wearing dark slacks and a white button-down shirt to his religious group’s services, an outfit the DOC contends is a threat to prison security. 

Policy Directors Joan Steffen and Sheridan Cunningham Testify on Proposed Revisions to DOC Mail Regulations

On February 5, 2021, PLAP Policy Directors Joan Steffen and Sheridan Cunningham submitted written testimony on proposed changes to the regulations governing mail procedures in Massachusetts prisons, 103 CMR 481. Joan also provided oral testimony at a public hearing on January 29, 2021.

Sheridan and Joan began by emphasizing PLAP’s familiarity with the Department of Correction (DOC) mail process. PLAP student attorneys interact with hundreds of people incarcerated in Massachusetts via mail each year. PLAP student attorneys have also represented incarcerated clients in disciplinary hearings who have been accused of misusing the mail process, including allegations of introducing illicit drugs via mail. PLAP has observed an increase in such allegations in recent years, including many allegations based on unreliable field tests that are ultimately proven to be specious.

In what it describes as an effort to prevent the introduction of illicit drugs into DOC facilities, DOC has proposed several changes to 103 CMR 481. These proposed changes include photocopying all incoming legal and non-legal mail, as well as eliminating time limits on mail processing. Joan and Sheridan’s testimony emphasized the burdens that these proposed changes would place on PLAP’s clients and all people incarcerated in DOC facilities, as well as their loved ones.

First, Joan and Sheridan argued that photocopying all incoming legal mail would pose “an unacceptable risk of breaching the confidentiality of attorney-client communications.” The proposed photocopying system cannot ensure full confidentiality because modern copiers have internal memory that allow documents to be printed again later, and there is an increased risk that DOC employees will inadvertently read privileged materials. As Joan and Sheridan emphasized, “The right to confidential attorney-client communications is essential and must be preserved, particularly in an environment where the person in custody may well be involved in legal proceedings with the Commonwealth regarding his underlying conviction, or with the Department that has him in custody.” Joan and Sheridan argued that DOC could adopt alternative provisions to prevent introduction of illicit drugs without infringing on attorney-client privilege, such as adopting a mail authentication system to distinguish authentic legal mail from counterfeit mail.

In addition to posing a threat to attorney-client privilege, the proposed changes would hinder the ability of people in prison to communicate with their loved ones. DOC has proposed using a third-party photocopying vendor to copy all incoming non-legal mail; incarcerated people would then be provided only with the photocopies of the original letters. As Joan and Sheridan emphasized, people in prison “are separated from their families and other loved ones for incredibly long periods of time, and often the only physical connection they are able to have with them is to be able to touch the same handwritten card that they touched, or the drawing that their child drew them.” This separation is particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, given the restrictions on in-person visits. The proposed changes would also likely lead to delays in mail delivery; as Joan and Sheridan note, the adoption of a similar system in Pennsylvania has led to an increase in complaints about lost and delayed mail.

DOC’s proposal to eliminate time limits on mail processing would also undermine the ability of incarcerated people to communicate with their loved ones, as well as their attorneys. DOC has proposed eliminating the requirement that outgoing mail be delivered to the post office within 24 hours of collection and that incoming mail be delivered to incarcerated persons within 24 hours of receipt by DOC. As Joan and Sheridan emphasize, incarcerated people “rely on timely mail processing for a host of reasons, including compliance with external deadlines, and providing assurances and updates to loved ones about their status and wellbeing.” Such mail communication is especially crucial given the restrictions on in-person communication due to COVID-19; PLAP has also relied more heavily on mail to communicate with clients during the pandemic.

DOC’s proposed changes, Joan and Sheridan conclude, are costly, fail to address DOC’s goals, and undermine the ability of people in prison to communicate with loved ones during a global pandemic. Joan and Sheridan encourage DOC to study the implementation of photocopying systems in other states before asking Massachusetts taxpayers to pay for a similar system here. They emphasize that DOC could better achieve its aims of reducing drug use and recidivism “by expanding access to substance use therapy, mental health care, and medically-assisted treatment; and improving access to programming.” Finally, they argue that the proposals will hinder communications between incarcerated people and supporters beyond the prison walls, and would thus, “in large part, punish prisoners, spouses, children, pen-pals, and other loved ones who have done nothing wrong.”

You can read Joan and Sheridan’s full testimony here.

CARES Act Relief for Incarcerated People Is Long Overdue


By: Joel Thompson, Joan Steffen, Marta Canneri, and Will Ossoff

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which offered crucial relief to American families struggling with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Six months later, people in prison and jail can finally receive that relief as well. On September 24, 2020, in response to a lawsuit filed by the law firm Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society, a federal district judge in California ordered the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to make CARES Act stimulus payments available to people in prison and jail. Judge Phyllis Hamilton issued a preliminary injunction requiring the IRS and Treasury to stop blocking such payments and expedite payments previously denied, concluding, “plaintiffs and those similarly situated are being deprived basic necessities such as communication with loved ones, food, and hygiene products. Because they often exist on the margins of the economy and struggle to acquire basic necessities, the harm suffered by these individuals cannot be adequately remedied with later monetary relief.”

Since then, PLAP and other advocates have set to work disseminating the word and trying to make the process accessible and available to incarcerated individuals. PLAP Policy Director Joan Steffen took the lead on drafting a CARES Act info sheet for incarcerated individuals, which PLAP is now mailing to all individuals who request it.  

In response to our efforts to disseminate this information, some have questioned whether incarcerated individuals are as entitled to CARES Act relief as other Americans. Critics of the September 24th order tend to pose their concern in the form of a question: how will these payments actually stimulate the economy? The same question could be asked about the payments made to people outside of prison, of course. There is a risk, in even asking this question, that we continue to legitimize the usual myths:  

MYTH: Incarcerated people, by virtue of their convictions and prison sentences, are bad and undeserving, while all other people, whatever wrongs they might have committed in their lives, are good and deserving.

If we wanted to stimulate the economy but wanted a moral litmus test so that only the worthy people among us received stimulus checks, relying on incarceration is an inaccurate, and racist, way to do that sorting. We are not living in an old western movie. An incarcerated person is more than the act that led to her incarceration, and at the same time a person can cause a lot of harm to others, yet never go to prison for it. Let’s not pretend that our criminal legal system handles all societal wrongdoing equitably. And let’s not decry systemic racism in the abstract, but pretend it doesn’t exist when it comes time to write a check.

MYTH: Incarcerated people are loners, devoid of family, friends, or loved ones.

People in prison have spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends. Their loved ones may need help with the rent, groceries, and gas money (including to visit them; the visiting rooms have reopened in some facilities), just like everyone else. Knowing what we know about the socioeconomic status of people in prison and the families from which they come, it’s actually more likely that stimulus money will be spent and not just thrown in the bank.  

MYTH: Our prison systems provide everything a person in prison could possibly need and more, for free.

It bears remembering how much people in prison — and their loved ones — pay for the few amenities made available to them. In her order, Judge Hamilton recognized that “[i]ncarcerated persons often cannot bear the entirety of costs associated with acquiring basic necessities in prison—food, hygiene, and communication. The remaining costs often fall on the families of the incarcerated.”  

Phone calls are charged at well above market rates in most prison systems.  Many prison systems now make email available — if the incarcerated individual can pay for the prison-approved tablet, and the fee charged for each email message.  People in prison and their loved ones continue to rely heavily on traditional mail to stay connected, which means paying for postage, envelopes, pen, and paper. During the systemwide lockdowns brought on by the pandemic, hot meals at the chow hall were replaced by meager, repetitive (and sometimes spoiled) cold foods delivered to cell, and incarcerated people have relied more than ever on buying food from the canteen, along with additional soap or other goods that have taken on increased importance for all of us in 2020. As with phone calls and email, people in prison buy canteen items at above-market prices.

In fact, stimulus funds sent to people in prison are most likely to end up in the hands of the many companies in this country whose entire business model is built around government contracts for exclusive services to jails and prisons. They enjoy a literally captive consumer base, and that lack of competition is reflected in their pricing and service quality. Many of these contracts call for a percentage of the revenues to be paid back to the jail or prison that hired them, as a “commission.” Bianca Tylek and her organization, Worth Rises (, provide more information about the industry that turns imprisonment into profit. A recent Boston Globe column also highlights the steep costs that phone calls from correctional facilities impose on people incarcerated in Massachusetts and their families. The sad fact, then, is that stimulus payments made to people in prison will be spent, even if those dollars do not go as far for incarcerated people as they do for everyone else.

Those who are concerned that their taxpayer dollars will not be reinvested in the economy by incarcerated people can thus rest easy. The real question is why it took so long for those who “exist on the margins of the economy and struggle to acquire basic necessities” to receive the same relief that their fellow Americans received months ago. 

If you or one of your loved ones is interested in applying for stimulus payment while incarcerated in a U.S. prison or jail, please check out PLAP’s CARES Act info sheet or Lieff Cabraser’s webpage dedicated to the lawsuit.

Joel Thompson is the Supervising Attorney of Harvard PLAP; Joan Steffen is a PLAP Policy Director; Marta Canneri and Will Ossoff are the PLAP Publicity and Communications Directors. 

Policy Directors Sheridan Cunningham and Joan Steffen Testify on Revisions to Medical Parole Regulations

On September 16, PLAP Policy Directors Sheridan Cunningham and Joan Steffen submitted written testimony to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) on proposed revisions to the regulations governing medical parole, 501 CMR 17.00. Sheridan also provided oral testimony in a Public Hearing held by EOPSS on September 16.

Medical parole is a mechanism by which prisoners who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated can request supervised release from prison. The medical parole statute (G.L. c. 127 § 119A) was created in 2018; it was included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act that was passed that year. The proposed revisions to 501 CMR 17.00, the specific regulations governing the administration of medical parole, arose after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court invalidated existing regulations earlier this year. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that 1) prison superintendents are still required to review petitions that they deemed incomplete or inadequate; 2) the burden for developing a medical parole plan, procuring a medical diagnosis, and assessing the petitioner’s risk of violence should be shifted to the superintendent; and 3) the commissioner must supply the petitioner with all documents that the superintendent submitted with their medical parole recommendation.

Sheridan and Joan argued that further changes are needed to expand accessibility of medical parole and improve the system’s responsiveness to major health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. As they argued in their testimony, “The current COVID-19 pandemic underscores the mismatch between the prison environment and the needs of elderly, infirm, and seriously ill prisoners.” Sheridan and Joan further noted, “Although we have seen the court-ordered release of many pre-trial detainees, releases of sentenced prisoners have remained consistent with release rates prior to the pandemic.” While the Supreme Judicial Court “specifically cited medical parole as one of the tools at the DOC’s disposal to effectuate releases,” the current and proposed parole regulations have “impeded, and will continue to impede, the release of medically vulnerable petitioners unnecessarily.”

Sheridan and Joan argued for four specific changes to the existing regulations:

  1. The definition of “debilitating condition” should be removed or revised to exclude unnecessary and irrelevant conditions.
  2. The assessment for risk of violence outlined in the proposed regulation should be revised to exclude irrelevant considerations.
  3. To avoid unnecessary inefficiency and delay, the medical parole petitioner should be afforded additional procedural safeguards.
  4. The regulation should include specific provisions for serving cognitively disabled prisoners who, by reason of their disability, cannot otherwise access medical parole.

Sheridan and Joan’s full testimony can be read here.

Join PLAP!

For over 50 years, PLAP members have fought on behalf of people incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons. Our members continue to virtually represent clients in disciplinary hearings and parole hearings.

We seek to empower people incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons; to train our community in client-based advocacy and instill a commitment to public interest and social justice; and to participate in conversations about incarceration and engage in efforts to promote the rights of incarcerated people.

If you’re interested in joining PLAP, join us at a new member training!

Friday, September 18, at 12:00 pm
Sunday, September 20, at 2:00 pm
Tuesday, September 22, at 6:00 pm

Registration link:

Questions? Scheduling conflict? Contact Jack Lubin at!

The State of the Massachusetts Department of Correction: Souza-Baranowski & Beyond

On Monday March 9, PLAP hosted a discussion about conditions at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) and throughout the Massachusetts prison system. The discussion was moderated by PLAP Liaison Alexis Yeboah-Kodie (JD ’21) and featured Elizabeth Matos, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts; Jurrell Laronal, an abolitionist and community organizer who previously spent ten years incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons; and Ayana Aubourg, Director of Programs at Families for Justice as Healing and the Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director of Sisters Unchained.

The speakers began the discussion by detailing the widespread and brutal crackdown by officers at SBCC, which followed a fight on January 10th in which three officers were injured. As Matos put it, “What happened after January 10th, in our experience—and we’ve been around since 1972—was pretty unprecedented.” Starting around January 23rd, correctional officers, dressed in riot gear and accompanied by dogs, went cell-by-cell and assaulted people unprovoked. Over 120 assaults were reported to PLS in just five weeks; by comparison, only 44 assaults at SBCC were reported in the entire previous year. Laronal emphasized the severity of these attacks: “We’re not talking about small beatings. We’re talking about abuses. A lot of incarcerated people got sent out to outside hospitals.” Matos also noted that the assaults have contributed to a “huge mental health crisis” at SBCC. Furthermore, because all of the people involved in the January 10th altercation were moved to other prisons, all of these assaults at SBCC were against people who were not involved.

Laronal connected these recent assaults to a broader culture amongst officers that he experienced while he was incarcerated. As he put it, “Behind those walls, anything can happen…The culture that exists inside the prison system, with the guards, is that they can do whatever. It’s control with violence.” Matos also emphasized that these attacks were “state-sanctioned” and not the result of “a bunch of rogue officers.” Aubourg suggested that this behavior spurs from a narrative that “they’re locking up the worst of the worst people, but really they’re creating the worst of the worst conditions for people who are trying to survive prison.”

The speakers emphasized the burden that this crackdown has placed on families of incarcerated people. For a period of over a week after January 24th, people incarcerated at SBCC were only allowed out of their cells to shower and make phone calls for around 15 minutes total per day. They only had a brief amount of time during which to speak to their families about what they had experienced. Families of those who were sent to hospitals for treatment were not told where their loved ones were sent and could not communicate with them. As Aubourg put it, “It’s important to emphasize how the DOC is depriving families of human contact.”

Fortunately, the severity of this crackdown has spurred an impressive amount of organizing from community leaders like Matos, Laronal, and Aubourg. Organizers and families have pressured groups of state legislators to visit SBCC and investigate the conditions first-hand. State Senator Jamie Eldridge, for example, released a statement criticizing DOC for failing to improve conditions in line with the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act. Laronal emphasized that more sustained and rigorous pressure on elected officials can help to improve accountability: “If half of this room were to call their legislators, it would start an uproar.”

The speakers emphasized that SBCC cannot be addressed in a vacuum: for real change to occur, the culture of violence and abuse needs to be addressed throughout the Department of Correction. The same agency that is turning a blind eye to the crisis at SBCC is also pushing to build a new $50 million women’s prison. DOC is thus seeking to redirect resources away from rehabilitation and community-based programs. The public attention focused on SBCC provides an opportunity to push Beacon Hill for a real change in how it spends resources. As Matos put it, “For so long this has been out of sight and out of mind and people just haven’t cared. Now we have an opportunity.”

Student Attorney Spotlight: Matthew Disler


PLAP Student Attorney Matthew Disler (J.D. ’21) provides a first-hand account of his experience representing a client in a disciplinary hearing this past fall. Matthew took the case with the assistance of Kaitlyn Gerber (J.D. ’19) and Sadie Hillier (J.D. ’20). 


In 2018, guards woke a man incarcerated in a minimum security prison and informed him that he had been implicated in a scheme to introduce contraband. He had no knowledge of the scheme, which he tried to explain. But when he received his disciplinary report, he learned how officers had linked him to the seized contraband. The bust consisted of several packages of material, including cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and cell phones, and one of the packages was labeled with a word that matched his surname.

The prisoner was charged with committing fifteen separate rule violations for allegedly attempting to receive this material. He is entitled to a hearing on those charges, but his case moved slowly, and he was pulled back from minimum security to medium security while waiting to resolve his case. Medium security prisons offer fewer privileges, and fewer of the program or work opportunities that enable prisoners to earn “good time” – a reduction in their sentence. After several months without any progress toward resolution, this prisoner called PLAP to ask for assistance, and I agreed to take his case.

It was my first disciplinary hearing, and despite the training I had received in PLAP, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never even visited a prison before, and when I traveled to the prison to meet with my client, I wasn’t confident that I could provide satisfactory answers to any of his questions. I didn’t know his chances for getting his charges dismissed, what evidence the prison had collected or would disclose, or even when we could expect a hearing. In the meantime, although my client had had a parole hearing scheduled, the pending disciplinary report meant that he would not be paroled, or transferred back to minimum security, while his charges remained pending. In short, he was in limbo.

It remained this way for months, despite my efforts to obtain discovery and move the case forward. Throughout the spring semester and into the summer, we received no updates from the prison. Finally, in August, the disciplinary officer in charge of the case informed me that the evidence was finally available, and that after I reviewed it (many of the documents were deemed “view only,” meaning I could visit the prison and see them but could not have copies) we could schedule a hearing for early September—more than a year after the contraband seizure that led to these allegations.

By the time of the disciplinary hearing, I had learned many more facts that helped my client’s case. His surname, which the contraband scheme participants had allegedly written on one package and which served as the main piece of evidence against him, turned out to be very common among people incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons. Furthermore, all the other words written on the packages were nicknames, not surnames; it would have been odd for the participants to use nicknames in labeling all of the packages but an actual surname for just one of them. And none of the other individuals involved in the alleged contraband scheme had ever identified my client as a participant. The only connection was that my client had, before his incarceration, been an acquaintance of one of the scheme’s purported organizers. But it was neither unusual nor suspicious for two incarcerated people to have met each other before imprisonment.

I explained all of these points at the disciplinary hearing. As I argued, the charges in disciplinary reports need to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. A word written on one package, where no other evidence pointed to my client and no participant in the scheme had ever identified my client as a participant, clearly failed to meet that standard.

Thankfully, the hearing officer agreed and dismissed all fifteen charges against my client. There simply was no “corroborating evidence” that my client knew about the contraband or was the intended recipient, he wrote. The evidence could not meet the burden of proof for any of the charges.

While I was thrilled about our victory, it was also a bittersweet moment. The hearing officer’s decision confirmed what the PLAP team and I had always thought: that the charges against my client were flimsy and couldn’t stand up to any real scrutiny. But that validation meant that my client’s life had been uprooted because of a series of events that were entirely out of his control. A word scribbled on a package that he knew nothing about had changed everything, from his custody level to his sentence length and parole eligibility. And the repercussions of that lost time won’t disappear just because we won the case.

PLAP’s Joel Thompson on Solitary Confinement Reform Bill


Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge recently organized a legislative press conference on a new criminal justice reform bill that he has proposed. The bill would provide additional protections to those who are placed in solitary confinement, such as ensuring placement review hearings for anyone who is placed in segregated housing and providing them the opportunity for legal representation at those hearings.

PLAP supervising attorney Joel Thompson spoke at the press conference, alongside a group of solitary confinement survivors and advocates. As Joel remarks, “Unfortunately, what our experience has proven is that it’s too easy to put someone in the hole. It’s too difficult to get someone out of the hole. It’s too easy for it to become the default. What should be, at worst, an extraordinary measure becomes the normal. The exception becomes the rule, for some individuals anyway. Senate Docket 2532 would make changes to improve this process, to really make substantial change for our clients and for all prisoners.”

The entire press conference can be viewed here (Joel’s remarks start at 51:25). The proposed bill can be viewed here.

2020 Prison Law Summer Job Search Guide

The UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program has released its 2020 Summer Job Search Guide with information about organizations and offices around the country who work on behalf of incarcerated people and who are looking for summer interns.

The Prison Law and Policy Program also hosts the Prison Law JD listserv for current law students and recent law graduates nationwide who are interested in working to promote the rights of incarcerated people and achieve criminal justice reform more broadly. The Program’s director is Professor Sharon Dolovich, a Harvard Law and PLAP alumna.

Read the 2020 Summer Job Search Guide.

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