Massachusetts SJC to consider rules of medical parole for ill prisoners


October 3, 2019
Shira Schoenberg

In the first year Massachusetts offered the option of medical parole, it was granted to only four of 33 inmates who applied.

Prisoners’ rights advocates have said the Department of Correction has been too strict in interpreting the criminal justice reform law passed by the Legislature in 2018, and that has limited prisoners’ chances of receiving medical parole. Now, the state’s highest court will have a chance to weigh in, in a case that could affect how state corrections officials carry out the medical parole program.

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments Friday in the case, Joseph Buckman v. Commissioner of Correction.

The plaintiffs, Buckman and Peter Cruz, filed petitions for medical parole but had them rejected by the jail superintendent as incomplete. Both men are serving life sentences for murder.

The Committee for Public Counsel Services, Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Disability Law Center filed court briefs siding with Buckman and Cruz.

Attorneys for Prisoners’ Legal Services called it “absurd” to expect a dying or incapacitated prisoner to prepare a medical release plan. “Even capable prisoners attempting the process alone would be stymied by numerous logistical barriers,” they wrote. For example, a prisoner cannot always easily access doctors or medical records – which the prison superintendent can.

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