Restraining order law doesn’t adequately protect roommates (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an editorial published on September 11 by the Boston Globe calling for clarity and legal protection for college students experiencing abuse or assault by their roommate. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s (MLRI) Deputy Director Jamie Sabino is quoted.

As college students start classes this fall, it’s the worst of the worst-case scenarios: What if that new roommate turns out to be not just a bad fit but outright violent?

Such cases are, no doubt, rare — and colleges should be able to sort out most of them. But if a victim needs to go to law enforcement, it turns out there’s a loophole in state law that leaves college students and other people living in nontraditional joint living arrangements with insufficient recourse.

If a family member is abusive, the victim can get a restraining order. But the restraining order law, it seems, wasn’t crafted with all modern living situations in mind, leaving gaps in who can be legally protected from violent living situations. If the court does not clarify the law, the Legislature should, while ensuring that the rights of the alleged victim and the accused are protected.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

Graying of Massachusetts prisons cries out for a dose of compassion (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an August 27 editorial published by the Boston Globe calling for compassion for the aging population in our prison system. Prisoners Legal Services’ Staff Attorney Ada Lin is quoted.

The “graying” of the nation’s prison system — and with it the challenges posed by an aging population — is now a well-recognized phenomenon.

“The number of state prisoners age 55 and older has increased by 400 percent from 1993 to 2013, and it is predicted that by 2030, this age group will account for one-third of the US prison population,” according to a 2022 report by the American Bar Association.

“As the US population ages and rates of dementia increase, the prevalence of dementia among those involved in the criminal legal system can also be expected to increase,” it noted.

The demographic time bomb — a function of long prison sentences and mandatory life sentences in the 1980s and 1990s — is about to go off. There is also a body of evidence that prison itself accelerates both the aging process — 55 is considered old in prison years — and the likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. The latter may well be a function of lack of stimulation in prison, according to a study in the journal Health and Justice.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

State places homeless families in unstaffed sites, raising safety concerns (WBUR)

Below is an excerpt from an August 21 article published by WBUR expressing concern for homeless populations at unstaffed shelter sites throughout the state. Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) Senior Paralegal Adam Hoole is quoted.

More than 10% of the households in Massachusetts’ family shelter system are now in hotels and motels without the usual support staff and services. As of Sunday, 638 families were in these unstaffed units, raising concerns among advocacy groups about health and safety for those families.

The unstaffed units, which are meant to be temporary, are part of an effort to respond to increasing family homelessness. While the state does work to provide food or cooking facilities, many families in unstaffed units do not have access to translation, transportation and case management, among other services.

Adam Hoole, a senior paralegal at Greater Boston Legal Services, said he gets calls several times a week about problems at unstaffed shelter units.

“I had an organization call me about two weeks ago, and at that time, they were telling me about 10 families that had no access to food,” he said.

Read more at WBUR.

The state’s duty to shelter its residents (Boston Globe)

Below is a letter to the editor published on August 14 by the Boston Globe. Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) Senior Attorney Laurie Massie, and Acting Litigation Director Gary Klein co-authored the letter.

We write concerning the right-to-shelter law described in the Aug. 8 article on the Emergency Assistance shelter system for families with children experiencing homelessness (“Law guaranteeing shelter was promoted by Dukakis,” Page A1). We agree that the shelter system is in crisis, but it is wrong to blame homeless families, including immigrants with children, for generating that crisis.

In reality, the Commonwealth has allowed the shelter system to fall into disarray and has often failed to meet its commitments to the most vulnerable members of our society. Simply put, policy makers need to recognize that the pressures on the shelter system arise because of a chronic shortage of affordable housing (particularly for the lowest-income families), lack of attention to eviction prevention for low-income tenants, and failure to prioritize income supports and housing subsidies that would allow homeless families to transition more quickly into permanent housing.

Greater Boston Legal Services recently resolved a class action case with the Commonwealth (Garcia v. Department of Housing and Community Development) to address substantial existing flaws in the shelter system. The settlement represents a binding commitment to not scapegoat the victims of a long history of failed housing policy in Massachusetts but rather to improve existing services to make them function properly.

No one, especially homeless families, wants a system in which costly, long-term hotel stays substitute for safe and affordable housing. Instead, the Commonwealth must implement policies to prevent evictions in the first place, to increase the stock of meaningfully affordable housing, and to provide supports to help families move out of the shelter system and into safe, permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Laura Massie

Senior attorney, Housing Unit

Gary Klein

Acting litigation director

Greater Boston Legal Services


Many workers unaware law gives them paid sick time (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an August 10 article published by the Boston Globe calling attention to a critical time off medical safeguard for Massachusetts residents. Greater Boston Legal Services’ Staff Attorney David McKenna is quoted.

Mirta Barillas had worked for an industrial laundry in Haverhill for 17 years when the company stopped giving her time off for frequent migraines. After missing numerous shifts in early 2022, she was eventually put on unpaid leave for five weeks to recover, she said — with only a few days of paid vacation to make up for lost wages.

The human resources manager then told her she could only come back if she stopped calling in sick, Barillas said, and when she produced a doctor’s note stating that the migraines could continue causing her to miss work, she was fired.

Massachusetts has a safeguard for workers who need to take time off for medical reasons or to care for a family member, guaranteeing them up to 26 weeks of paid time off, in addition to employer-provided sick days, funded through a payroll tax and issued by the state. But more than two years after benefits were launched in January 2021, many workers still aren’t aware of their rights, and some companies are punishing them for taking time off for health or family reasons.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

Massachusetts Gov. Healey declares a state of emergency in overwhelmed family shelter system (NHPR)

Below is an excerpt from an August 8 article published by NHPR covering Gov. Healey’s call for a state of emergency, primarily caused by Massachusetts’ oversaturated shelter system. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s (MLRI) Director of Community Driven Advocacy Andrea Park is quoted.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency Tuesday to address the record number of households seeking help from the state-run family shelter system, including many new immigrants and refugees.

She also called on the community to act with a sense of urgency, including donating to a new fund for family assistance and asking residents to open their homes to homeless families.

As of Monday, the shelter system, officially called Emergency Assistance, was serving 5,550 families, or more than 20,000 people.

“It’s more families than our state has ever served, exponentially more,” Healey told reporters and advocates at the State House. She noted that the number of families in the state shelter system has increased roughly 80% since this time last year. “It’s unsustainable,” Healey said.

Read more at NHPR.

Thousands with complicated disabilities languish as Massachusetts struggles with staff shortages at care programs (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an August 8 article published by the Boston Globe describing the impact of shortages in day care for people with disabilities who have complex medical or behavioral needs. Disability Law Center’s (DLC) Senior Attorney Hillary Stanisz is quoted.

BARNSTABLE — Most days, hour after hour, Tyler Bourne hunches in a blue easy chair in his mother’s living room, watching the reality TV show “Wicked Tuna,” or crinkling up free magazines from Stop and Shop.

He overheats easily, so this time of year, the 37-year-old won’t leave the house for days, sometimes more than a week at a time.

His life wasn’t always so stagnant. Bourne, who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that caused profound developmental disabilities, attended for about 12 years a day habilitation program, or day hab, in Mashpee five days a week, six hours a day. But over the past three years, he has been allowed back only rarely.

Bourne is among roughly 2,000 individuals, most of them people with complex medical or behavioral needs, who have been effectively exiled from day hab since the pandemic, placed on waiting lists for a service that is much more than just day care. The programs also provide skilled nursing, physical therapy, speech therapy, group outings, and opportunities to socialize. But they are currently so understaffed, according to state officials and providers, that some are finding it difficult to provide one-to-one care for everyone who needs it.

Read more at the Boston Globe

Prisoners with mental disabilities claim discrimination by Massachusetts Parole Board (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an August 3 article published by GBH detailing prisoners claims of discrimination by the Massachusetts Parole Board. Prisoners Legal Services’ (PLS) Litigation Director James Pingeon is quoted.

Three state prisoners are claiming in a state lawsuit that the Massachusetts Parole Board has discriminated against them because of their mental health disabilities, and that the board’s actions have effectively denied them a road to freedom.

The prisoners — named in court documents as John Doe 1, 2 and 3 — say the state parole board is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide accommodations to them because of their disabilities. That includes failing to assign counsel to support people with mental disabilities during complex parole hearings and penalizing parole candidates for their conduct and appearance related to their disabilities.

They also say the state has “essentially ignored” directives in a 2017 Supreme Judicial Court decision to support people with disabilities to develop “appropriate” release plans to the community.

James Pingeon, litigation director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, who represents one of the plaintiffs, told GBH News on Thursday that he is hopeful the lawsuit will lead to positive outcome for the many prisoners with mental illness behind bars.

Read more at GBH.

Massachsuetts legislature reviving program to prevent evictions (Fall River Reporter)

Below is an excerpt from a July 31 article published by the Fall River Reporter discussing the return of a pandemic-era housing protection program. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s (MLRI) Director of Community Driven Advocacy Andrea Park is quoted.

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 31, 2023 — A pandemic-era program that paused roughly 10,000 eviction cases while tenants sought financial aid could return as a permanent tool if Gov. Maura Healey joins lawmakers in support.

The compromise fiscal year 2024 annual state budget approved by the Legislature on Monday revives “Chapter 257” protections. Anti-homelessness advocates say the protections are a key strategy to keep Bay Staters in their homes while landlord groups say tenants have exploited the program.

Language in the conference committee report filed Sunday night effectively mirrors the previous program, which lawmakers kept in place for much of the COVID-19 emergency before allowing it to expire on March 31.

Read more at the Fall River Reporter.

Western Mass project helps parents keep custody of their kids (NEPM)

Below is an excerpt from a July 19 article published by the New England Public Media about a new initiative at Community Legal Aid (CLA) that provides legal support to guardians approached by the Department of Children & Families (DCF). CLA’s Senior Supervising Attorney Madeline Blanchette is quoted.

On an afternoon last January, a 49-year-old artist and mother named Cara was working a warehouse shift, one of two jobs she held to support her family. She was still sharing a house in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with her ex-partner and had left their 4-year-old daughter in his care.

But he got drunk, and Cara — not sure what to do — ended up calling the police.

Cara, who asked to keep her last name private, said she had already been in touch with a domestic violence organization about her ex. After the drinking incident, she said, that organization called the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF).

“I thought that when DCF stepped in, that it would be an outside authority that could put this situation in control,” she said. “And it did the opposite.”

Read more from New England Public Media.