PRISONER ADVOCATES CALL FOR REFORM OF PAROLE BOARD AS COVID SPREADS
Jan 5, 2021
By Jenifer B. McKim
Amid mounting cases of COVID-19 in the state’s prisons and jails, a group of community organizations are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker and top lawmakers to push the Parole Board to expedite releases of eligible parolees.
More than 70 organizations on Tuesday sent a 10-page letter alerting state officials to what they call “serious concerns” about the parole system, including what they allege are low release rates, long delays for decisions and unnecessary re-incarceration of parolees who haven’t committed new crimes.
Elizabeth Matos, executive director of the Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, says organizations have long been concerned about the efficacy of the seven-member Parole Board — but continued health risks related to the pandemic make reform more urgent.
At least 17 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, four since late December, data shows. More than 3,000 prisoners have tested positive for the disease in a prison population now hovering just under 13,000, according to data provided by officials to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
“There’s no evidence that they are making a concerted effort to use parole to mitigate the impact of COVID,” Matos said. “People are literally dying on a weekly basis at this point.”