Coalition Demands End to Obstruction of Required Appointment of Independent Public Health Expert to Oversee State Prison System
STATEMENT OF BLACK AND PINK MASSACHUSETTS, BUILDING UP PEOPLE NOT PRISONS COALITION, CHARLES HAMILTON HOUSTON INSTITUTE FOR RACE AND JUSTICE AT HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, FAMILIES FOR JUSTICE AS HEALING, AND PRISONERS’ LEGAL SERVICES OF MASSACHUSETTS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | October 7, 2021
For ten months, the Department of Correction (DOC) has defied a legislative mandate to release people who may be safely released in the interests of public health and to establish an independent ombudsperson to oversee the COVID-19 pandemic response. In the spring of 2021, pursuant to a required process in the Commonwealth’s FY2021 budget, Attorney General Healey fully vetted Dr. Monik Jiménez, Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, to serve as an independent ombudsperson to oversee public health measures in the Department of Correction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jiménez was recommended for the position by a range of stakeholders and by the Attorney General, and is a subject-matter expert with impeccable qualifications. The Department of Correction failed to finalize a contract with her and did not provide her with the resources necessary to carry out the mandate of the budget language.
Instead, months later–after the mandate for the ombudsperson’s office was renewed and funds were appropriated in the FY2022 budget–the DOC filled the vacancy it had left open for six months with Seth Peters pursuant to a new contract with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School that failed to solicit or even consider stakeholder input. One week after submitting an initial report to the Legislature required by the budget language, Mr. Peters was placed on leave and then subsequently fired from the role after reporting revealed his involvement in a wrongful death lawsuit which alleged he had forged records to cover up his own violation of care protocols when he was an EMT. It is clear that very little if any vetting was conducted in relation to his appointment to the ombudsman role. The position is now vacant once again over 10 months since the budget language first mandated the appointment by the Attorney General.
COVID-19 continues to pose a grave risk to the lives and health of all those in our prison system, and the Legislature enacted this language to ensure an independent public health expert could recommend and implement evidence-based mitigation efforts that will promote health and safety for all. Originally forwarded to the Department of Correction as the Attorney General’s vetted appointment six months ago pursuant to a mandatory process outlined in the FY2021 budget, Dr. Monik Jiménez continues to stand ready to fill the role. Attorney General Healey should call on the Department of Correction to honor her appointment and to develop a contract with Dr. Jiménez to serve as the independent ombudsperson as soon as possible so this timely and important work can begin.
Building Up People Not Prisons Coalition
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School
Families for Justice as Healing
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts