Massachusetts’ prisoners to argue for release over coronavirus concerns before state’s highest court

May 5th, 2020

By Andrew Martinez
May 5, 2020
Boston Herald

The state’s highest court will weigh the release of some of Massachusetts’ 7,000-plus prisoners in another high-profile criminal justice showdown Thursday, one month after criminal defense groups fought for the release of pretrial detainees with limited success.

Prisoners’ Legal Services, representing inmates in Department of Correction facilities, will spar with counsel for the DOC at 1 p.m. Thursday before the Supreme Judicial Court as COVID-19 cases in prisons continues to rise.

“Our clients are becoming infected at rates that far exceed the general public and people are needlessly dying because we are choosing to apply a lesser standard of prevention and care in prisons and jails,” Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, claimed in a statement Tuesday.

The DOC said last week eight inmates in their facilities have died from COVID-19 complications. Of the DOC’s 7,381 inmates as of Tuesday, 18% of 1,862 tested inmates tested positive for COVID-19, a new report revealed.

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First County Jail Inmate Dies Of COVID Complications

April 30th, 2020

By Jenifer McKim
April 30, 2020

A prisoner in the Middleton House of Correction become Massachusetts’ first county jail inmate to die of COVID-related causes, heightening concerns among advocates that not enough is being done to reduce incarcerated populations, test inmates or prevent the spread in the state penal system.

Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said Thursday that the 41-year-old prisoner died Wednesday, was one of 60 in his facilities to have tested positive for the virus. The prisoner — whose name was not released — had other health issues and had been incarcerated in the jail since Feb. 18, county officials said.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the prisoners’ advocacy group, says until government officials reduce inmate numbers the state will see increased infections behind bars.

“The reality is that many of these jails are overcrowded, they rely on dorm settings, and as long as we have this many people in jails and prisons we will continue to see the virus spread,’’ Matos said.

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Mici: No need to release inmates due to COVID-19

April 29th, 2020

By Sarah Betancourt
April 29, 2020
Commonwealth Magazine

Says prisoners need to do their part in avoiding infection

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION’S top prison official told a state judge on Wednesday that she is satisfied with the way the system is responding to COVID-19 cases and sees no need to release inmates convicted of serious crimes to house arrest.

Carol Mici, the commissioner of the Department of Correction, appeared virtually before Superior Court Judge Robert Ullmann, who is gathering information for the Supreme Judicial Court in a case where inmates are seeking their release to house arrest to reduce their exposure to COVID-19. The SJC previously authorized the release of 800 prisoners awaiting trial, but this proceeding is dealing with inmates actually convicted of crimes.

Mici said the state’s 16 correctional facilities are regularly cleaned and that staff and medical vendors are all required to wear masks. Asked about reports of DOC staff not wearing masks, she said one correctional officer was penalized “with a five-day suspension for not wearing a mask on his unit.”

Under questioning from Jim Pingeon, an attorney from Prisoners’ Legal Services, which brought the case, Mici said some inmates who test positive are sent to single cells in the same unit as prisoners without the disease. She said the infected inmates would share showers and bathrooms with non-infected inmates, but those facilities are cleaned regularly.

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Prisoners testify about COVID-19 dangers

April 27th, 2020

By Sarah Betancourt
April 27, 2020
Commonwealth Magazine

AS THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION begins ramping up COVID-19 testing at state prisons, prisoners from three facilities testified before a Superior Court judge about conditions at their institutions.

The lawsuit, which is likely to end up before the Supreme Judicial Court for final action, is seeking the release of sentenced prisoners to reduce crowding at the facilities and the potential for COVID-19 spread. An earlier decision by the SJC ordered the release of prisoners awaiting trials.

Michele Tourigny, a prisoner at MCI-Framingham, where 68 of the 189 prisoners have tested positive for coronavirus, testified via phone that she joined the lawsuit filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services because she applied for medical parole on March 31 and has heard nothing back. She has been incarcerated 23 years.

Tourigny has tested negative for COVID-19, but she’s worried she will contract the virus. She was hospitalized last year for an infected leg and surgery that removed part of her lung following a bout of pneumonia. She said she has bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, as well as an ongoing heart condition and thyroid issues. She is the only occupant of her cell because she has difficulty walking and uses a wheelchair.

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Pandemic in Our Prisons

April 25th, 2020

By Yvonne Abraham
April 25, 2020
Boston Globe

Think coronavirus in our prisons doesn’t affect everybody? Think again.

If we don’t get a handle soon on what’s happening in our prisons and jails during this pandemic, we’re looking at an epic disaster — and one that will reach well beyond their walls.

Though it’s unconscionable at this late stage, we are still flying mostly blind when it comes to the 14,000 or so men and women who sit in the state’s jails and prisons. Between April 5 and April 20, those facilities reported that only 548 inmates had been tested for the coronavirus, and that 214 of those had confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a summary released Wednesday, under a court order that should never have been necessary to get this basic information; seven have died of the disease. A whopping 28 of the 200 women housed at MCI-Framingham had tested positive as of April 20, a rate higher than that at New York’s notorious Rikers Island. Bridgewater’s Massachusetts Treatment Center was another hotspot, with 41 infections among the 560 or so inmates. A couple of county jails had tested no inmates at all.

For a long time, leaders of both parties in this state have let their fear of releasing the wrong person govern their corrections policies. That fear now has life-or-death consequences for far more people.

“Everyone is afraid to be the ones to stick their necks out because of the population we’re talking about,” said Elizabeth Matos, head of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

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