LITTLE NOTICED LAW SETS OFF COURT FIGHT OVER STATE’S RESPONSIBILITY TO RELEASE INMATES TO REDUCE COVID RISKS
Lawyers for incarcerated people have begun seeking release of dozens of people
Feb 9, 2021
The Boston Globe
By Andrea Estes
Language quietly added to the state budget in November has given hope to Massachusetts prison inmates that they will be able to get out early to lessen their risk of getting COVID.
So far, the state Department of Correction has refused early release for any of the 6,500 prisoners to reduce the risk of COVID-19, which has sickened hundreds and killed more than 20 inmates. The only exceptions have been paroles granted to some gravely ill prisoners for conditions unrelated to the pandemic.
But, on Wednesday, lawyers for a group of prisoners will ask a Suffolk Superior Court judge to order the Correction Department to follow the new law, which says the department “shall release, transition to home confinement, or furlough” people who can be safely released to reduce the risk of COVID.
“The statutory language is very clear,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “It requires the commissioner of correction to review everyone to see who is actually suitable for release. It doesn’t exclude anyone from release.’’
Despite the provision, added to the state budget by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, Matos said the Department of Correction has continued to oppose any early releases.