Category: Parole (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Why Isn’t Prison Justice on the Ballot This Tuesday?

Help Lady Liberty Out and Read the Full Article Here.


It seems as if criminal justice reform has been a mainstream topic since the 1970’s, but continuously we see prison reforms being halted or ignored by congress. The “tough on crime” approach was of major attention when New York City promised to harshly tackle the issue, but now that talk of reforming has taken place, the actual chance to take action on it seems to be absent from campaigns and ballots. Why? Well, most people pay attention to the problem of crime and then demand change, not the problems affecting criminals. However, as the article points out, America wears a scarlet letter of mass incarceration, which is an embarrassment for our country. And with so many people being affected by prison sentences, more people should be demanding change for the current system. Just because the crimes are happening behind prison walls doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In fact, the author suggests, by reforming the criminal justice system, we will see a positive change in other areas, most notably, the economic inequality gap.


Changing Prison From the Inside Out




Mark Olmsted vowed to never forget his fellow inmates that he would leave behind after his release from a nine month prison stint, and he certainly did not. When he got out he continued to keep in contact with his former cellmates, sending them money here and there or just a friendly letter to let them know they haven’t been forgotten by the outside world. As he continued to campaign for prison reform, he received surprising, and seemingly impossible, tweets from an inmate in an Alabama prison. Turns out that some inmates in southern area prisons are networking via contraband cell phones to inform us, the outside world, of their lives and prison conditions. This network has come to be known as the Free Alabama Movement. A part of it’s statement purpose reads, “And this Movement isn’t about getting ‘some outside support,’ or having our family ‘call the politicians or mayor’s office,’ ‘call the news station’ and on and on and on. The reason for this is simple: we can’t form a movement conditioned on ‘outside’ people without first unifying the ‘inside people.'” So, take a moment out of your day to hear the truth about prisons and prison life from the best experts there could possibly be: the inmates themselves. 

Free Alabama Movement Official Website– Here you can listen to the prisoners who have been forgotten, silenced and ignored. Listen to them, let their voices be heard, and spread their message further along in the outside world.

AND the Free Alabama Movement is ALL over youtube, recording their lives on the inside and exposing the hard truths to the outside.

Not only are there youtube videos being posted by FAM, but one inmate actually hosts a talk show from inside the prison, allowing for other inmates with contraband cell phones to call in and speak on his online radio station.

“The Throwaways”: New Film Spotlights Impact of Police Killings and Mass Incarceration in Upstate New York


New documetary film “The Throwaways” follows Ira McKinley, a filmmaker and ex-convcit, as he guides viewers through nearly empty city of Albany, New York while shedding light on the prison and police problems that have plagued marginalized populations for years. Ira McKinley describes his life before prison, explaining that his father was shot and killed by cops when he was just 14 and he quickly became “addicted to the life.” To support his new lifestyle, including a crack habit, he began robbing stores which ultimately landed him in prison until 2002. After he was released, he describes how hard it was for him to re-enter society as an ex convict, deeming himself a “marked” citizen. Ira McKinley bravely takes viewers into a world of racial profiling, which he refers to as “The New Jim Crow,” based on the book by Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration, and the slow death of once heavily populated, black communities.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full article.

Click here to learn more about Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Click here for “The Throwaways” documenary website.

Break the Prison to Poverty Pipeline


“The way we treat prisoners while they are locked up, after all, directly affects how they fare when they re-enter society”- Clio Chang, author of article.


Rikers Island has started to improve conditions for inmates with the  elimination of solitary confinement for youth ages 16 and 17. However, much more needs to be done to rehabilitate, not punish, America’s most vulnerable citizens. Rikers Island has an infamous reputation for being especially brutal to its inmates for minor disturbances and has most recently been brought into the spotlight for it’s lack of rehabilitation for inmates. The United States has become a strictly punitive system that makes it impossible for inmates to escape their prison history and then successfully re-enter society. Even though in theory prisons were meant to rehabilitate via educational programs, job trainings etc., it has developed into a system of punishment that lacks the resources necessary to break the prison to povery pipeline. Click here to read the full article.

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