Massachusetts COVID-19 Decarceration Bill Could Protect Us All

March 21st, 2020

By Jean Trounstine
March 21, 2020
DigBoston

On Friday, March 20, Massachusetts state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa filed An Act regarding Decarceration and COVID-19, emergency legislation addressing the potential coronavirus contamination behind bars

The day before, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins called for review and release of those who pose no risk to the public, and several sheriffs and prosecutors joined her call for action. While there have been few reported coronavirus cases in Massachusetts prisons or jails, activists across the state have written a number of notices, letters and op-eds, and joined with nationwide coalitions, calling for the governor to use his powers to upend the crisis that could unfold in our prisons and jails.

There are approximately 17,000 people in our prisons and jails as of March 16, 2020, according to the DOC. Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said among them, the elderly prison population is defined as over 50; as of January 2019, there were 2,500 people over 50 years old in our prisons, many with low-level sentences or awaiting trial.

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Bristol County sheriff says no to releasing prisoners in response to virus

March 20th, 2020

By David Linton
March 20, 2020
Sun Chronicle

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is shutting the door on demands he release prisoners in light of the coronavirus pandemic, saying doing so would endanger the health and safety of the public and inmates.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services said, “Public health and epidemiology experts are clearly calling for reducing the numbers of people incarcerated because they know that the virus will get into jails and prisons and that the results could be catastrophic.”

Matos said Hodgson’s response “is irresponsible and lacking in understanding the gravity of the situation. He is putting people in his custody at risk. Inaction and inertia could, quite frankly, directly lead to infection and death.”

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57 Inmates To A Unit, Bunk Beds 3 Feet Apart; ICE Detainees In Bristol County Cite Overcrowding Amid COVID-19 Fears

March 20th, 2020

By Shannon Doolin
March 20, 2020
WBUR

More than 50 immigrant detainees, under the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and housed at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), are raising concerns about overcrowding and possible exposure to the coronavirus.

In a letter dated March 18, the ICE detainees describe two corrections officers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 while on duty in the facility last week. The letter goes on to outline the cramped living quarters of the ICE detainees of “Unit B,” in which 57 people are housed in bunks approximately three feet away from another.

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and the Mass. Law Reform Institute on Friday called upon ICE and the county sheriffs to release all ICE inmates in the name of stemming potential outbreaks of coronavirus within the detained population.

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Concern About COVID-19 Spikes Among Immigration Attorneys As A Boston Courtroom Is Closed

March 19th, 2020

By Shannon Dooling
March 19, 2020
WBUR

Concerns over exposure to COVID-19 are increasing among Boston’s immigration attorneys after one of the courtrooms in Boston abruptly closed earlier this week.

Mario Paredes is a staff attorney working jointly with Prisoners’ Legal Services and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. He says the groups are hearing concerns from detained immigrants across New England.

“We are hearing a lot of worry from those who are still in detention that there hasn’t been enough guidance provided to them,” Paredes says. “Also, in certain places we’ve heard that there’s not enough soap being provided to immigrants who are detained and newly detained immigrants who are coming into the system.”

Paredes says offering more release options to detained individuals during the COVID-19 crisis would reduce the burdens on attorneys and courts while also reducing the chance of exposure to the highly contagious virus.

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Rollins Moves To Release Sick, Elderly Inmates From Prison To Avoid Coronavirus Infections

March 19th, 2020

By Jennifer McKim
March 19, 2020
WBUR

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Thursday she is planning to release from prison some elderly and sick inmates who pose “no meaningful risk to public safety” and were prosecuted in Suffolk County, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“While Americans across the country are being encouraged to self-isolate, members of our incarcerated population are, by definition, doing the exact opposite with no alternative options,’’ Rollins said in a statement. “We need to seriously consider pathways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for our incarcerated populations, the overwhelming majority of which will return to our communities at some point in the future.”

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