Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 6)

PLAP Hosts Jesse White for Discussion on Prison Brutality

Last Wednesday, February 22, PLAP hosted Jesse White, the attorney who runs Prisoners’ Legal Services’ Prison Brutality Project. The project seeks to address the widespread problem of correctional staff abusing their authority by assaulting the men and women who they are employed to keep safe. Jesse staffs the Rapid Response to Brutality Project, which responds quickly to document prisoner injuries and conduct interviews in the wake of excessive use of force incidents. She also conducts investigations, provides both individual and systemic advocacy, provides pro se and pro bono litigation assistance, and assists with PLS’ brutality litigation.

Jesse spoke to a large group of PLAP students about her work, her background, and strategies we can use to more effectively handle cases involving officer brutality. We are grateful Jesse took the time to speak with us, and look forward to PLAP’s continued involvement with the Prison Brutality Project.

PLAP is Hiring Summer Student Attorneys!

PLAP is hiring rising 2Ls and 3Ls to work as full-time student attorneys this summer. PLAP is one of the few large-scale law student practice organizations delivering legal services to incarcerated individuals, and has helped defend Massachusetts prisoners’ rights for over four decades.
Student attorneys represent Massachusetts state prison inmates in parole and disciplinary matters, typically working alongside PLAP’s supervising attorneys on behalf of 4-6 incarcerated clients over the course of the summer. Through this work, student attorneys have a unique opportunity to shape their own cases and practice advocacy by crafting arguments, interviewing clients, conducting discovery, and cross-examining witnesses in disciplinary hearings. Summer student attorneys also staff PLAP’s hotline and respond to incarcerated individuals’ legal research requests.
Qualified candidates will have a sincere interest in criminal justice and serving the incarcerated. Training will be held during the last weeks of May and you must be able to spend 10 weeks working for PLAP. You should be able to drive and rent a car in the United States. Past hotline experience and/or Spanish language skills are a plus.
PLAP volunteers will receive a $500 stipend in addition to any public interest funding available through other sources. As a small office, PLAP offers a casual environment and flexible hours, letting you do RA or similar work at the same time.
To apply, send a resume and cover letter stating your interest in PLAP’s work to Dennis Dillon at
Applicants will be contacted for an interview if their application passes the screening stage. Interviews will continue until all positions are filled, but preference will be given to applications received prior to February 22, 2017.

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.”



PLAP Office Reopens!

Now that students have returned from winter break, the PLAP office is back up and running! We are excited to announce that this year we will be open during J-Term, so we will be answering phone calls and responding to letters as usual.
PLAPpers, now is a great time to take advantage of a light course load and take a case! We’re excited to see all the great work PLAP can accomplish this month.

PLAP Students Testify at DOC Meeting

On Thursday, October 6th, PLAP Board Members Dennis Dillon, Annie Manhardt, and Katherine Robinson testified at a public hearing regarding proposed changes to the Massachusetts Department of Correction regulations.  As an organization, we submitted testimony regarding proposed changes to the regulations that govern disciplinary hearings, use of force, and grievance procedures. A few of the department’s proposed changes we support as long-overdue amendments to DOC policy, such as prohibiting the issuance of disciplinary reports for self-injurious behavior and providing that defendants in disciplinary hearings may seek accommodations for their disabilities. However, PLAP students reviewing the proposed changes identified a number of issues that concern us including the use of overly broad language that would give correction officers little guidance in assessing aggravated assaults and the reasonable use of force, vague and redundant offense definitions that could lead to further abuse of disciplinary reports, failures to clarify aspects of sanctions procedures that could lead to inconsistent and unfair outcomes, and new language that runs the risk of deterring the submission of valid grievances. At the hearing, we voiced our concerns before DOC representatives, along with our supervisor Joel Thompson (who spoke on behalf of Prisoners Legal Services), families of incarcerated people, and representatives from the correction officers union. Though it remains to be seen whether the DOC will incorporate any of our comments into the amended regulations, Katherine Robinson states that she is “glad we had this opportunity to voice our clients’ concerns, share the experiences of student attorneys who navigate these regulations, and help shape the rules that dictate so much of our clients’ lives.”

PLAPpers Practice Cross-Examination Skills

Last week new PLAPpers participated in our annual cross-examination training. This is an important training as it prepares new 1Ls to take on their own disciplinary hearings and teaches them basic advocacy skills. Lawyers from across Boston volunteered their time on Wednesday evening to help students with the difficult task of cross-examining a witness. Experienced PLAPpers played the role of an uncooperative reporting officer, and new PLAPpers had just moments to review the facts of the case and prepare questions for the officer. All of the students did a great job with their first ever cross-examination, and we know they’ll be ready for the real thing as they begin taking cases.


Executive director William Ahee is seen here with John Fitzpatrick, one of PLAP's Supervising Attorneys, explaining what cross-examination is and how PLAPpers can best prepare for hearings.

Executive director William Ahee is seen here with John Fitzpatrick, one of PLAP’s Supervising Attorneys, explaining what cross-examination is and how PLAPpers can best prepare for hearings.

PLAP Welcomes the Class of 2019!

With the new school year now in full swing, PLAP is happy to announce that this year it has added more new members than ever! 122 students attended New Member Orientation last week. In order for new members to learn how PLAP works and how to best help our clients, we ask that all new members attend a training one evening during the week of September 19. Trainings will occur in the PLAP office (WCC 5107) Monday through Thursday from 7-9pm. We look forward to seeing you all there and are excited for what this big group of PLAP students will be able to accomplish this year!

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.

Artists Grapple With America’s Prison System

“Angola Prison, 1980,” by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick.

For several weeks in February and March, the Whitney Museum’s fifth-floor gallery has been drenched in the slamming of gates, the rattling of keys and the bellowing of prisoners and guards. The artist Andrea Fraser recorded the sounds at Sing Sing, the infamous prison 34 miles up the Hudson River, then fed them into a gallery that’s roughly the same size as the prison’s A Block.

“Down the River,” her commanding work, alludes to the practice of separating slaves — and prisoners to this day — from their families and sentencing them to backbreaking labor on the South’s cotton plantations. It is a show that prods viewers to consider “the institutional and symbolic polarization that increasingly defines American society,” Ms. Fraser said.

Artists around the country are grappling with America’s incarceration system, as a subject and a social force. Like Ms. Fraser, Cameron Rowland’s show at Artists Space engaged a privileged art world with the economic mechanisms behind mass incarceration, focusing on how our society benefits from prisoners’ labor.

To read more, click here: here

PLAP Testifies to Judiciary Committee on Prison and Parole Reform Bills


On October 14, three PLAPpers joined individuals and organizations from across the Commonwealth at the State House to testify before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, in support of bills aimed at improving criminal justice.  Despite little advance notice, a dozen PLAPpers volunteered to do research and draft written testimony for the Committee’s review, and three PLAPpers – Michael Mullan (LLM), Katherine Robinson (1L), and Eddie Nasser (1L) – appeared in person to present oral testimony on PLAP’s behalf.  Dozens of bills were on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda, but PLAP focused on three issues of considerable importance to its clients.

Solitary Confinement

Michael Mullan expressed PLAP’s support for two bills:  one that would require the Massachusetts Department of Correction to collect data and report on the usage of solitary confinement in state prison, and another that would substantially limit the use and duration of solitary confinement.  Mr. Mullan highlighted PLAP’s unique familiarity with this issue, as PLAPpers represent state prisoners in dozens of disciplinary hearings each year, with solitary confinement always a potential sanction (and often a feature of the pre-hearing process).  For serious charges, the DOC permits sentences of up to ten years in solitary confinement, making Massachusetts an outlier nationally.

Mr. Mullan described the dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement, effects which are well known and acknowledged by experts in many different fields.  Being locked in a small, cramped cell, with solid doors and limited natural light, for 23 hours a day, day after day, takes a heavy toll on the inhabitant.  The harm done to prisoners in solitary is also visited on the community, as most prisoners are eventually released.  The transition to society, which is already difficult, is made even more so when a person has been deprived of normal stimuli or social interaction for extended periods of time.

Mr. Mullan submitted PLAP’s position that given these harms, the DOC should be reporting its usage of solitary confinement, so that it can be monitored and studied, and long-term solitary confinement should be eliminated.  Mr. Mullan reminded lawmakers that solitary confinement is imposed not only on the guilty but on those merely accused of violating prison rules, with indefinite confinement for weeks or sometimes months.

Compassionate Release

Katherine Robinson urged the Judiciary Committee to report out a proposal to bring compassionate release to Massachusetts.  The proposal would allow a court to release terminally ill or permanently incapacitated prisoners to a hospital, nursing home, long term care facility, or home with hospice services.  Again, Massachusetts is an outlier nationally, one of only five states not to have such a law on its books.

Ms. Robinson identified the many benefits of the bill, which would move dying and incapacitated patients from prison to a more suitable setting, where the delivery of appropriate care would be less costly.  Along with more efficient health care, placement outside the prison wall would reduce the burden on correctional staff, who now must protect these very vulnerable prisoners and transport them to and from every medical appointments and hospital trip.

Drawing on PLAP’s experience representing ill and elderly clients, Ms. Robinson demonstrated how prisons are ill-suited to manage these people’s needs.  One PLAP client with dementia, who was wheelchair-bound and legally blind, was disciplined for shouting and flailing his arms at nursing staff when they changed his linens at 1:00 a.m.  Although he was predictably disoriented, he was found guilty of assault and other charges.  The Department of Correction only relented and withdrew its finding after PLAP appealed the agency’s decision to Superior Court.

Parole Reform

Eddie Nasser conveyed PLAP’s support for two bills that would modify the parole process.  The first bill would increase the size of the Board from seven to nine members, and it would require that at least three Board members be drawn from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, or social work.  Mr. Nasser highlighted significant delays in the Board’s decisionmaking in recent years, which could be alleviated by an expanded Board.  A required complement of mental health or sociology professionals, meanwhile, would be an appropriate response to the prevalence of mental illness in this population, and such professionals would be uniquely suited to make the risk assessments required of the Board.

The second bill would make Massachusetts a presumptive parole state – one in which the presumption is that parole will be granted at the time of eligibility, unless the Board makes a specific determination that parole release would be incompatible with public safety.  Mr. Nasser argued that a presumptive parole scheme would make the convict’s prison record and conduct the main focus of a parole hearing, and it would prevent an undue emphasis on the crime.  Moreover, it would make the parole process more objective and predictable, which would benefit all the parties.

Committee members asked several questions of the PLAPpers without tipping their hand as to their position on these bills.  Over the next few months, PLAP will work with other organizations to encourage the Judiciary Committee to report these bills out favorably.

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