Massachusetts SJC to consider rules of medical parole for ill prisoners

October 3rd, 2019

October 3, 2019
Shira Schoenberg

In the first year Massachusetts offered the option of medical parole, it was granted to only four of 33 inmates who applied.

Prisoners’ rights advocates have said the Department of Correction has been too strict in interpreting the criminal justice reform law passed by the Legislature in 2018, and that has limited prisoners’ chances of receiving medical parole. Now, the state’s highest court will have a chance to weigh in, in a case that could affect how state corrections officials carry out the medical parole program.

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Friday in the case, Joseph Buckman v. Commissioner of Correction.

The plaintiffs, Buckman and Peter Cruz, filed petitions for medical parole but had them rejected by the jail superintendent as incomplete. Both men are serving life sentences for murder.

The Committee for Public Counsel Services, Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Disability Law Center filed court briefs siding with Buckman and Cruz.

Attorneys for Prisoners’ Legal Services called it “absurd” to expect a dying or incapacitated prisoner to prepare a medical release plan. “Even capable prisoners attempting the process alone would be stymied by numerous logistical barriers,” they wrote. For example, a prisoner cannot always easily access doctors or medical records – which the prison superintendent can.

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The inmate population in Mass. keeps falling, but the number of people put in solitary stays high

September 15th, 2019

The Boston Globe
September 15, 2019
Maria Cramer

About one in five inmates was placed in solitary confinement during 2018, alarming prisoner rights advocates and legislators who have criticized the practice as Draconian and called on corrections officials to reduce its prevalence.

Last year, at least 2,100 male and female prisoners were placed in isolation at least once, according to biannual reports provided by the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Most inmates remained there for 30 days or fewer, although about one-third were placed in isolation multiple times.

“This is a staggeringly high number and shows that many people are placed in solitary for minor infractions of prison rules,” said James Pingeon, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services, which advocates for the rights of inmates in state custody. “It is dismaying and it confirms what we see as a lot of foot-dragging and resistance by the department to truly implement reforms.”

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Judge: State is ‘slowly killing’ quadriplegic murderer

August 15th, 2019

Worcester Telegram
August 15, 2019
Brad Petrishen

WORCESTER – A federal judge has ordered a quadriplegic convicted murderer released from state prison, opining that the state Department of Correction is “neither able nor willing” to provide for his dire medical needs.

“Massachusetts does not recognize capital punishment, yet the (DOC) is, through its lack of treatment of his quadriplegia and its complications, slowly killing him,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman wrote of inmate Timothy M. Reaves.

Mr. Reaves was paralyzed at age 29 in a 1994 crash while fleeing police after the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy in New Bedford. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1996, at which time the cost to taxpayers of confining him already approached $1 million.

Mr. Reaves has now been in custody an additional 24 years. It is unclear how much the state has spent to confine him, as the DOC, in response to queries, has said it does not track spending on individual inmates.

What is clear, Judge Hillman ruled, is that the state has violated Mr. Reaves’ constitutional rights by failing to provide him adequate medical care.

Mr. Reaves filed a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional treatment in 2016 through Prisoners’ Legal Services.

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More Safeguards Sought for Detainees, Inmates

August 8th, 2019

More Safeguards Sought for Detainees, Inmates

Last night's seegment with Elizabeth Matos of Prisoners' Legal Services about the need for more safeguards–and access to treatment–for detainees and inmates.

Posted by BNN News on Thursday, August 8, 2019

Deaths in police custody underscore dangers for people arrested with drug issues

July 30th, 2019

The Boston Globe
July 30, 2019
By Michael Levenson

Shayne Stilphen died after he was found unconscious in a police holding cell in the South End on July 14. But the public wasn’t informed about it until his mother, Lynnel Cox, marched into the Suffolk district attorney’s office last week demanding answers.

At least four other people have died in police custody since 2012, Boston police say, but they could not provide an exact number and there is no requirement that they or other police departments publicly disclose when suspects they are holding die in their custody.

The conditions in police holding cells are sparking increasing concern among prisoner advocates who warn that the opioid crisis is driving more people into a criminal justice system that was never designed to prevent overdose deaths or care for those going through withdrawal.

“It’s not an aberration,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “It’s a systematic problem of the system not being properly equipped to deal with folks coming in with substance use disorder.”

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