Some Mass. Prisoners Are Being Released In Response To The Coronavirus Outbreak

March 25th, 2020

By Deborah Becker
March 25, 2020

Some Massachusetts prisoners are being released because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But whether someone is released depends in large part on where they’re incarcerated.

The largest number of prisoner releases will occur in Middlesex County, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the state. For the past week and a half, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan has been reviewing cases with sheriff Peter Koutoujian and defense attorneys. As of Tuesday, more than 40 prisoners who have not yet been tried have been released.

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As COVID-19 hits prisons, worry spreads

March 23rd, 2020

By Sarah Betancourt
March 23, 2020
Commonwealth Magazine

Officials, advocates differ over preparedness

WITH THREE PRISONERS and one corrections officer diagnosed with the coronavirus at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, the Department of Correction has developed a response plan for containment of the virus, including setting up screening tents with the help of the National Guard to take the temperature of all employees entering state prisons.

The department is using Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health guidelines “to reduce, to the greatest degree possible, the potential impact of this virus on our correctional system while maintaining core services,” Carol Mici, the Department of Correction commissioner, said in a statement.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the advocacy group Prisoners’ Legal Services, says her organization has had reports of lack of soap, no alcohol-based hand sanitizer, inmates being double-bunked despite availability of single cells for separation, and civilian staff walking in and out of the medical units with no protective gear.

“There will undoubtedly be more [COVID-19 cases] and in other prisons and jails because the DOC and Commonwealth were not nearly as aggressive as they should have been at the outset regarding this population.” Matos said.

With no intensive care units inside the prisons, Matos says prisoners who become seriously ill will have to be transported to hospitals that are already near capacity. “We need to release people so that we can better contain and manage the crisis in the Commonwealth’s prisons and jails and in the communities where the people who work inside live,” she said.

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38 positive for coronavirus at Rikers, NYC jails

March 22nd, 2020

By Michael Rezendes and Robin McDowell
March 22, 2020

The board overseeing New York City’s jails urged officials to start releasing vulnerable populations and those being held on low-level offenses as the coronavirus outbreak hit the notorious Rikers Island complex and nearby jails — infecting at least 38 people.

Another inmate, meanwhile, became the first in the country to test positive in a federal jail.

“Fewer people in the jails will save lives and minimize transmission among people in custody as well as staff,” Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman wrote in a letter to New York’s criminal justice leaders this weekend. “Failure to drastically reduce the jail population threatens to overwhelm the City jails’ healthcare system as well its basic operations.”

From the start, public officials and advocates called for a reduction in the size of their jail and prison populations, saying they were a tinderbox for the virus, not just inside correctional facilities, but society at large. Hundreds of incarcerated men and women have already been released, including 600 in Los Angeles and 300 in San Francisco. Other places talking about early releases include Travis County, Texas, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

“It’s like an approaching tsunami. Once it hits, it’s too late,” said James Pingeon, an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. “I get that opening the doors of all the prisons is not realistic, but we should release as many that it’s safe to release in order to avoid a situation like the one at Rikers.”

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Second Mass. person dies of coronavirus, state says

March 21st, 2020

Laura Crimaldi and John Hilliard
March 21, 2020
Boston Globe

New cases of COVID-19 reported on Saturday for the first time included an inmate in the state’s prison system, escalating pleas from advocates worried about the virus’s potential to spread quickly behind bars.

The patient is an inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center, a medium-security prison in Bridgewater reserved for sex offenders who are serving criminal sentences or have been civilly committed to the facility under the state’s sexually dangerous person law.

The sickened inmate and his roommate were quarantined from the prison’s general population on Thursday, and on Friday prison officials learned he tested positive for the virus. The man’s name wasn’t released, but the Department of Correction said he is serving a life sentence.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said staff who had contact with the man were sent home and are being tested for COVID-19.

The facility housed 571 inmates as of January with an average age of 50, state figures show. No other inmates have tested positive for the virus, according to the prison system.

Rachel Scotch, a public defender who represents clients at the treatment center, said many men civilly committed there have underlying health issues like diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“This is a largely elderly population with a lot of the risk factors in their health,” said Scotch. “It’s a small community. There’s a lot of contact.”

Elizabeth Matos, the executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said Baker should begin releasing ill inmates who would likely die if they developed COVID-19.

“The treatment center, sadly, will not be the last case,” she said.

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Coronavirus tracker: Statewide update for Saturday

March 21st, 2020

State House News
March 21, 2020
Berkshire Eagle

COVID-19 enters the prisons

Visitation rights have been suspended at all state prisons as an advocacy group fighting for the rights of inmates said Saturday that the first case of coronavirus in a lockup facility had been detected in Bridgewater. Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts said that an inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center had tested positive of COVID-19, and executive director Elizabeth Matos expressed concern that the Department of Correction was not prepared for a potential outbreak in the prison system.

“We are behind the eight ball on prevention and need to act aggressively to prevent the number of infections from reaching tragic numbers. The Department Correction and Sheriffs, working with proper health authorities, must quickly and transparently create, release, and execute a comprehensive plan for COVID-19 in the state’s prisons and jails, and it must include releases,” Matos said.

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