Among state lawmakers, compassionate release of inmates is divisive issue

By Milton Valencia
The Boston Globe
October 20, 2016

State lawmakers applauded the recent request by the federal government to free former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi from prison early under a program for elderly and severely ill inmates, agreeing that DiMasi, who has twice battled cancer while incarcerated, should be home with his family.

Yet attempts to enact a similar program for terminally ill inmates in Massachusetts have floundered for five years in the state Legislature, even though some lawmakers support DiMasi’s early release.

Earlier this year, a bill calling for compassionate release of Massachusetts inmates cleared the Senate. But in the House, the proposal was sent to a committee and then for a study, which effectively killed it for the legislative session.

“We look forward to the next legislative session when we hope the Legislature and the governor agree that releasing prisoners is an opportunity to save money,” said Leslie Walker, head of Prisoners Legal Services, an inmate rights advocacy group.

She added, “Its benefits are many and include the opportunity for critically ill prisoners to receive the individualized, round-the-clock care that prisons do not provide.”

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