Plymouth County extends its contract with ICE for the only county detention center left in Mass (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published on September 20 by GBH describing the inhumane living conditions in Plymouth County’s newly re-contracted immigration detention center. Prisoners Legal Services’ legal fellow Leah Hastings is quoted.

The Plymouth County sheriff’s office on Wednesday confirmed to GBH News that it has extended its federal contract to detain immigrants. The same day, advocates reupped their calls to end to the program, alleging longtime civil rights abuses.

document shared with GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting shows that a contract initiated with the agency in September 2008 had been extended several times, most recently until Sept. 21, 2023.

“Our contract has not expired and is extended to January 2024,” said Karen Barry, director of external affairs for the county sheriff’s office. She said in a message that there are 92 immigrant detainees at this time. Barry said there’s a provision in the contract for extension.

Plymouth is the only county in Massachusetts that still has an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants. Similar agreements ended in Franklin and Bristol counties in recent years.

Read more at GBH.


Advocates seek further eviction protections (The Eagle Tribune)

In a March 21 article, The Eagle Tribune reported on a letter signed by representatives from 100 advocacy groups to extend Massachusetts’s Chapter 257 law, which blocks eviction proceedings for tenants who are seeking public assistance to pay their rent. Among the letter signers were leaders from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services. An excerpt from the article is below.

BOSTON — With pandemic-related eviction protections set to expire at the end of the month, advocates are pushing for an extension to give state lawmakers more time to make the rules permanent.

In a letter to legislative leaders and Trial Court officials, a coalition of 100 social welfare, public health and legal aid groups called for a more than year-long extension to the Chapter 257 law, which blocks eviction proceedings for tenants who are seeking public assistance to pay their rent.

The protections, which were approved by the state Legislature in 2020 and extended twice, are set to expire March 31. The coalition wants Beacon Hill leaders to extend the law’s sunset date until July 31, 2024, “to allow more time for a permanent solution to be put into place.”

“Allowing this critical tool to expire now could result in evictions where tenancies could have been resolved with rental assistance, pushing many families and individuals into homelessness,” they wrote. “There is broad agreement among policymakers that residents across Massachusetts are experiencing a housing crisis.”

The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Greater Boston Legal Services and several United Way chapters, said the law “ensures that tenants are not needlessly displaced and maximizes rental assistance payments to landlords.”

The law also requires landlords to upload notice-to-quit letters to a state tracking system, the coalition wrote, “enabling agencies administering rental assistance to conduct outreach to landlords and tenants to prevent evictions.”

“While not perfect, Chapter 257 has been an essential protection for tenants waiting for rental assistance applications to be processed,” they wrote.

Read the full article in The Eagle Tribune. 

This story was also covered in The Salem News on March 27.

State finds Boston Public Schools transportation issues violated students’ right to special education services

In a March 1 article, The Boston Herald reported on an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that determined Boston Public Schools had violated students’ rights to special education services. Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children filed a joint complaint about the issue on behalf of several families last year. An excerpt of the article is below.

In a letter sent to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said an investigation found the district’s transportation issues violated students’ rights to special education services.

“The findings in the preceding sections of this letter indicate that the District did comply with some of its obligations under federal and state requirements,” DESE officials wrote in the letter.

Several families issued a joint complaint with Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children in October, outlining incidents in which the district failed to provide students with one-on-one and specially trained bus monitors, families notification of transportation issues, or just any transportation at all — in effect denying the students their right to a free appropriate public education.

In many of these incidents, “students’ families are required to (provide transportation), causing financial and other burdens,” the letter states, and systemic failures have “deprived many students of their education due to ongoing absences and late arrivals resulting from lack of or delayed transportation.”

The state reviewed parent reports of bus issues in the last year, finding 3,469 coded “Missed Stop,” 775 “Late Bus,” 736 “Stranded Student,” 721 “Bus Monitor,” 597 “Other,” and 236 “Blown Route” or “Uncovered Route.”

In the fall of the 2022-23 school year, an average of 16.4% of buses were still dropping off students late or not at all, the letter states.

These wide-scale issues had an especial impact on students with disabilities, the investigation found, including the “key deficiency” of bus monitors.

“The District reported that approximately 35–40% of monitor-required routes have not had a designated monitor assigned to the route during the 2022-2023 school year,” the letter reads.

Read more in The Boston Herald.

How Beacon Hill could expand abortion care for pregnant teens in Mass.

In an article published on February 24, reported on a movement to change the law that currently requires minors under 16 who seek an abortion to either obtain parental consent or go to court and request permission from a superior court judge. Jamie Sabino, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), is quoted in the article, which is excerpted below.

For nearly four decades, a cohort of Massachusetts lawyers have wrangled Beacon Hill lawmakers to remove hurdles for young people seeking abortion care independently, without involving their parents.

The ROE Act, which the Legislature passed in December 2020, expanded access to 16- and 17-year-old individuals, who no longer need parental consent to get an abortion or circumvent their parents by going to court and receiving permission for the procedure from a superior court judge.

But in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, Jamie Sabino, co-chair of a panel of lawyers that helps minors navigate the judicial bypass process, said there’s heightened urgency to reform what she says is a fraught system that punishes a small fraction of Bay Staters who are younger than 16 and desperately want an abortion.

Sabino, deputy director of advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, estimates that about 20 individuals younger than 16 are forced to go to court annually to avoid backlash from their parents or guardians. Other teens may cross state lines, such as those who live in Springfield and can receive an abortion in Hartford without needing to involve their parents, she said.

Read the full article on 

States Scramble to Replace Ripped-Off SNAP Benefits (Pew Trusts)

In a February 13 article, The Pew Charitable Trusts reported on the sophisticated electronic theft scam that left many Massachusetts residents without critical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Betsy Gwin of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is quoted. An excerpt from the article is below.

Last September, when Baltimore resident Tzu Yang went grocery shopping for his intellectually disabled daughter with a food benefits card that he thought was worth about $300, he discovered at the checkout that the card had no value left. The same thing happened in October, November and December.

The benefits meant for Hawlie Yang, age 37 but with the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, were being systematically stolen.

Tzu Yang contacted local authorities but never got the money back. The stolen electronic benefits were used locally and as far away as New York, he discovered. But neither he nor police could find out who filched them, and the state agencies involved provided no help or reimbursement.

They told him there’s no returning of benefits stolen from electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, Yang, a retired businessman, said in a phone interview.

Yang is not alone. All over the country, state agencies and people who receive aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, are reporting the theft of millions of dollars in benefits. And unlike regular credit or debit cards where refunds are often available when thieves poach funds, EBT cards don’t have those protections. That leaves many victims with no recourse.

Read the full article on the Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline blog.

Client Board Members Reflect on 2022 NLADA Conference

NLADA Conference 2022

Suzanne Small, Board Member of both Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) and Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) attended the conference in-person last October in Washington, DC.

Daphne Lopes, Board Member at VLP, attended the virtual conference in December.

General Impressions


Suzanne thought the conference was very good overall; she appreciated being back after such a long time and seeing all the people she knew.

Suzanne thought the workshops were excellent, and really enjoyed the pre-conference that was geared toward the client advocate, “Leadership is Everybody’s Business.”  She shared that this workshop “encouraged us to have a clear space in our advocacy to work toward being the best leaders we can be; to work with NLADA, build our skills, learn how to have the qualities that a board would want from us to engage with our community to best serve the marginalized communities we have, and to use our own story as a motivating force.”

Suzanne had attended other NLADA conferences in the past and was familiar with other board members from around the country. It was good to catch up and network, and in the process learn how to support each other as board members. In addition, it was helpful to find out about what other boards are doing and how they are leading in their communities. For example, she learned that the board of a San Diego based organization is going out to festivals in the community and wearing t-shirts to advertise what they do so that they can have a better following/outreach.

Suzanne also found it valuable to be able to come back to GBLS and VLP and share what she learned.

Suzanne’s background is in advocacy for mental health and people in the disability communities—”or, as I like to call them, people with all abilities.”  Her goal is to work toward equity and empowerment for people in these communities to get the legal support they need.

She said, “I try to use my own story as someone with lived experience in mental health to broaden people’s awareness and try to find out how we can get pro bono lawyers to help represent people when they are challenged by the system, and to help when people are discriminated against. That is my true story: to help educate and bring power to that community.”


Overall, Daphne said the sessions were very good and she truly enjoyed the experience. While she had some technology issues in the beginning (her screen kept glitching during the wellness session), she soon was back on track and could participate fully. Her favorite session was “Doing the Work: Creating and implementing a race equity plan in real life.” She appreciated the real talk and specificity of the presentation.

Her goal at these events is to know enough and be comfortable enough to one day become a client member of the NLADA Board.

“I am always a voice for the voiceless,” Daphne says. “That’s why I ask that every client Board Member at [Volunteer Lawyers Project] has a mentor. We need to acknowledge the imbalance of power.”

Daphne appreciated that at the NLADA conference, there is no hierarchy among attendees.

“Nobody is better than anyone else,” she says. “We’re all there at the table. It is a equal playing field and we are all there to learn. We are all empowering those less fortunate.

Key Takeaways/ Learnings


Suzanne was impressed by how much of a presence diversity, equity, and inclusion had in the workshops offered at the conference. She saw “the force behind trying to make an inclusive workspace for everyone, and how important it is to have equity and inclusion in the workplace and our general community.” It was powerful for her to see “the focus we need to have on that subject right now, to manage and advocate in that arena.”

Suzanne recalled one advocate who told her story about how she was impacted by legal aid when she was a client. At the time, this person didn’t have, the know-how or experience to represent herself. She described how she was supported by an attorney.

“It brought a whole new change for her,” Suzanne said. “It helped her in her legal battle, and she was able to give back to her community by becoming an advocate. She is one of our elders and mentors in the client advocacy community right now.”

The advocate’s story reminded Suzanne of her experience as a client of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) with a housing issue, and the role she plays now as an advocate who “supports clients in their housing battles including discrimination.”

“That was one thing that brought home for me what our work is all about,” she said.


Daphne learned about how other organizations use affinity groups in their DEI work internally and wondered if that model could be employed at Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). She also liked the idea of “Wellness Wednesdays” to encourage staff to engage in self-care and take breaks to recharge.

Daphne also was interested in hearing about how some organizations are making the case to funders that their case numbers may be down because they have been focused on systemic issues, which can take attorney time away from individual client work. She applauded one organization’s allocation of 5 hours a month for each attorney to devote to systemic advocacy initiatives.Daphne related to a lot of the discussions around microaggressions and the experiences of Black attorneys and legal aid staff members who opened up about being marginalized and demeaned. She also shared her own experiences as a client board member and gave helpful advice about how to effectively include clients as valued members of the board.

Moving forward


Suzanne envisions using what she learned at the conference to “continue to gain progress in our advocacy.” Suzanne serves both on the board of GBLS and VLP, and is the assistant chairperson of the client caucus. This year, one of the client caucus’ goals is to educate housing advocates. They are planning a workshop to bring together resident coordinators in the community and educate them on legal topics, so they can in turn represent the people they support in their housing districts.

Specifically, Suzanne will use the knowledge and skills she developed to educate housing advocates about outreach and self-representation tools. “The legal community cannot serve everybody,” she recognized.  She and her co-chairperson are planning this workshop for VLP. With GBLS, they are in the process of doing outreach as members of the client caucus, “to share our stories in the best way that we can, to tell how the legal community has impacted our lives and what we do in paying it forward, and help impact the lives of others.”

Suzanne also shared that her legal services board work is transferrable to her day job at Bay Cove Human Services and vice versa. At Bay Cove, she supports people with behavioral health conditions who are homeless or who do not have insurance. Some services the organization provides people with are therapy, psychiatry, homelessness advocacy, and helping connect clients with people who can support them in finding housing. Suzanne has coordinated with the director of Bay Cove to present to client caucus members.


After the conference, Daphne said she felt empowered, invigorated, and re-energized to take what she learned and bring it back to VLP. Specifically, she is going to talk about racial equity initiatives and opportunities to do more of this work.

While she missed going to the conference in-person and networking with other people in the legal aid community, Daphne was grateful for the opportunity to attend the conference virtually. She took pages and pages of notes! She said the other attendees and speakers felt like her “spirit brothers and sisters” and that the experience is powerful for client board members because it “makes us feel like we’re equal, and empowers us to give knowledge and receive knowledge.”

A Call to Engage More Client Board Members

Suzanne shared that “overall, it was an awesome conference, though I feel that we didn’t have the representation we usually did at previous conferences.” She looks forward to (after the pandemic) encouraging more people to “come out, learn, and engage in this wonderful effort of getting together with the legal community—like they say, ‘speaking truth to power.’”

Suzanne said that MLAC has been great in providing financial support for her to attend the conference, and she hopes it can continue to support more board members who want to attend the conference.

Suzanne also shared, “It would be great if client board members were offered training on how to enhance our public speaking skills and help us in our ability to present workshops. I have presented at two conferences with workshops, entitled Your Mental Health Matters and The Importance of Self-Advocacy. I am always looking for opportunities to hone and enhance my presentation skills.”


Doing our part to stop Asian hate

An op-ed in The Greenfield Recorder by Nghia Trinh, staff attorney for the Harry H. Dow Asian Outreach & Advocacy Project of Community Legal Aid.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is observed annually in the month of May to celebrate the culture and diversity of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. 2021 is a particularly profound year for the AAPI community, given all that has happened since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. The surge in anti-AAPI hate crimes across the globe has been alarming, but even more disturbing are the unreported offenses that AAPI community members endure in silence. Most readers may be unaware that some of your AAPI neighbors face harmful discrimination and bigotry on a regular basis. Read more in The Greenfield Recorder.

For Legislators: A Guide to CELHP

On December 21, legislators gathered virtually for a briefing on the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project, which provides urgently needed legal assistance in pandemic-related eviction cases.

The CELH Project expands the capacity of existing legal aid organizations to provide essential help to income-eligible tenants facing eviction due to COVID-19 and to landlords who are income-eligible owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes.

The PowerPoint presentation below walks legislators, their staff, and anyone interested in learning how to prevent evictions, through the new program, which is administered by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The Project also has a new website.

Pro bono legal service integral to Worcester lawyers’ work

…Recent recognition of Worcester-area lawyers spotlights an often-overlooked contribution these professionals make: taking time away from their billable hours for clients who may pay them handsomely, to donate pro bono, or uncompensated, legal services to persons of limited means or to nonprofit charitable organizations…Bowditch & Dewey LLP was nationally recognized by the ABA at a summit outside Washington, D.C. last month, with its ABA Outstanding Medical-Legal Partnership Pro Bono Advocacy Award.  The award celebrates Bowditch’s years of pro bono commitment to “meeting the health-harming needs of low-income families in Central Massachusetts, including through the Community Legal Aid Medical-Legal Partnership with UMass Memorial Medical Center”…Kate Gannon, a staff attorney for the CLA medical-legal partnership, said Bowditch & Dewey was particularly dedicated to “providing holistic upstream advocacy,” in other words addressing issues before they became big legal problems for clients, and to recruiting other attorneys and participating in training on the different challenges CLA clients face. Read more in the Telegram & Gazette.