LAWMAKERS AND ADVOCATES PUSH FOR MORE COVID-19 DATA FROM PRISONS

April 23rd, 2020

By Sarah Betancourt
April 23, 2020
DigBoston

State Rep. Mindy Domb has filed a bill that would require the collection, disclosure, and reporting of COVID-19 data in correctional settings across Massachusetts.

The measure would require daily coronavirus information reporting to the Department of Public Health from all correctional institutions in the state, including the Department of Correction and county jails.

“Data is an important weapon in the pandemic. It allows us to see who’s affected, clinical outcomes, access to testing,” Domb said. The Amherst Democrat added that testing can also highlight when certain populations are disproportionately impacted by the virus, and “lead to greater understanding of environmental factors in viral transmission or course of illness.” Required information would include the number of tests at each facility, number of positive results, prisoner deaths attributed to COVID-19, and the number of prisoners subject to COVID-19 quarantine who are being monitored.

Advocacy group Prisoners’ Legal Services has pushed for the release of incarcerated people, saying that more will fall ill if they’re kept in tight quarters. The bill is a welcome addition to their tool kit for getting to that goal. 

“It’s always helpful to have transparency in reporting data.” said Executive Director Lizz Matos of Domb’s bill. “Especially when we’re dealing with people’s health and safety, and when people are dying.”

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MISSING JAIL DATA HAMPERS COVID-19 RELEASE EFFORTS IN MASSACHUSETTS

April 22nd, 2020

By Ethan Corey
April 22, 2020
The Appeal

The state’s law enforcement agencies failed to implement a 2018 data-sharing law. Now officials are struggling to identify high-risk people to release from county jails.

In Massachusetts, a lack of accurate, real-time data about the criminal legal system has hampered efforts by defense attorneys and some district attorneys to release incarcerated people at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

In separate filings with the state’s highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, district attorneys in Berkshire and Suffolk counties said they had struggled to identify people in pretrial detention or serving short sentences in county jails to prioritize for release. The attorneys said this was because the offices had not received up-to-date data from judicial and law enforcement officials in their counties about the people they had in custody.

Massachusetts has long lacked a centralized database with information about the people being arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated in the state. Instead, agencies across the state maintain their own often incompatible and outdated databases, making it difficult if not impossible to track individuals’ paths through the system. Prosecutors, for instance, know whom their office charges and convicts, but they have little real-time information about what happens to those individuals after sentencing or even during pretrial incarceration. 

“Their systems are incredibly old and archaic and need to be replaced,” said Lizz Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts.

The lack of data makes it difficult to effectively monitor many aspects of the criminal legal system in the state, researchers and advocates say. 

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Lawsuit seeks release of sentenced prisoners during coronavirus

April 17th, 2020

By Sarah Betancourt
April 17, 2020
Commonwealth Magazine

Prisoner at MCI-Framingham talks about conditions, new roommate

A NEW CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT filed in the state’s highest court by advocates aims to release sentenced and civilly committed prisoners to stem the spread of coronavirus in prisons. 

Prisoners’ Legal Services filed the suit on behalf of 11 named inmates and others “similarly situated,” saying that the Department of Correction has “failed to implement readily available measures to save lives by radically reducing the number of people in prisons.”

The lawsuit said the state is failing to maintain social distancing between inmates. “Prisoners continue to be housed in close contact with each other in dormitory-style settings and double cells that do not meet the minimum space requirements established by the Department of Public Health,” attorneys wrote.

In a previous decision by a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court —filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts and Committee for Public Counsel Services —the state was ordered to release inmates who were awaiting trials or show why they shouldn’t be released. That decision resulted in more than 400 prisoners being released.

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New Legal Action To Free Massachusetts Prisoners Due To COVID-19

April 15th, 2020

By Deborah Becker
April 15, 2020
WBUR

Massachusetts Prisoners rights advocates are pursuing two new legal avenues to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Advocates say the state is not responding to the pandemic quickly enough and is endangering the health of those in custody.

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 11 prisoners and “all others similarly situated.” It asks that the state take steps to get people out of correctional settings, such as releasing those who have almost completed their sentences, those approved for parole, those with health issues and those civilly committed for addiction treatment.

The suit says because prisoners live in close quarters and many are older or have health conditions, more people should be released to mitigate the spread of the virus. While the Supreme Judicial Court this month ruled that some prisoners are eligible to seek release, the suit says more needs to be done.

“While a step in the right direction, that decision doesn’t provide enough relief to stop the virus from continuing to spread, particularly in the crowded prison system,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Services “We undoubtedly need broader relief to meaningfully reduce the risk of COVID-19 for both incarcerated people and correctional staff.”

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More Than 150 Positive COVID-19 Cases Reported Among Prisoners, Staff Inside Mass. Jails And Prisons

April 15th, 2020

By Deborah Becker
April 15, 2020
WBUR

The coronavirus appears to be spreading quickly in Massachusetts jails and prisons, with more than 150 positive cases reported among prisoners and staff.

The hardest hit facility has been the Massachusetts Treatment Center (MTC) in Bridgewater, where four prisoners have died from COVID-19. They’re the only prisoner deaths reported in the state.

Several people with incarcerated loved ones said it’s impossible for people in custody to stay 6 feet away from each other as social distancing guidelines recommend. And like on the outside, they said there is little testing. A report from the state Supreme Judicial court backs that up. The report said jails and prisons administered about 500 tests of prisoners and staff in the past week.

Lizz Matos, executive director of Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, said that’s not enough. She pointed out there are almost 15,000 people incarcerated and thousands of correctional employees, and the SJC report showed that in some county jails there has been no testing.

“You have a number of counties reporting zero tests, so we have no way of knowing who is walking around COVID positive and possibly transmitting the virus to others,” Matos said.

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