Tag Archive for: Prisoners Legal Services

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.


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.

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.

SJC to referee another medical parole dispute (CommonWealth Magazine)

CommonWealth Magazine on Sept. 9 reported on an amicus brief filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Disability Law Center, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Since the legislature established medical parole in 2018, prisoners’ rights advocates and Department of Correction officials have been in a near-constant fight about how the law is being implemented.

Tatum Pritchard, an attorney with the DLC, which filed a brief in the case, said the Legislature made clear that someone who is permanently incapacitated – physically or cognitively – should be eligible for parole, but the DOC inappropriately created a much narrower definition by focusing on activities of daily living. Pritchard said under the DOC’s definition, medical parole is reserved only for individuals who “really have no functional abilities at all.” 

The court could also address other related issues. DLC, PLS, and CPCS argued in their court brief that correction officials need to consider whether someone’s disability led to certain behavior in jail, like being disruptive, and whether that disability could be managed in the community. 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine and in The Boston Globe.

New report proposes a different way forward for incarcerated women in Massachusetts

On Monday, Prisoners’ Legal Services’ Women’s Incarceration Conditions and Reentry Project released a new report detailing the traumatic experiences of incarcerated women in Massachusetts and the urgent need to remedy the harm that women face in the carceral system. PLS attorney Sarah Nawab is the primary author of the report, A Different Way Forward: Stories from Incarcerated Women in Massachusetts and Recommendations.

The research is based on interviews with 22 women, either currently or formerly incarcerated in prisons and jails across the state. Of the women interviewed, the vast majority — 19 women — said they had either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or sexual violence while in custody.

“I think sexual misconduct happens with some regularity, and we have been unable to represent women in a brutality lawsuit like we do for many other people,” said Lizz Matos, PLS executive director, who was quoted in a WBUR article about the report. “And so this report was a response to that problem of not being able to shine a light on an issue and to show, through personal accounts, that this is real and it happens. And it needs a state response.”

Read more at PLS, WBUR, and WGBH.

‘Rubber stamp’ justice? In Mass., prison officials almost always deny prisoners’ claims of abuse behind bars

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, was quoted in a Dec. 29 Boston Globe article that investigated the prison grievance system in Massachusetts.

Every year, Massachusetts prisoners file hundreds of grievances alleging all manner of mistreatment behind bars, from excessive force to racism to harassment — all at the hands of prison employees.

And year after year, state records show, prison officials reject almost all of them.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, called the state’s grievance system a “rubber stamp process” offering little chance of justice for the incarcerated men.

Read more in the Boston Globe.

Prisoners’ Legal Services: Working to Depoliticize Incarceration

By John Carroll

On May 16, 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to mentally and physically disabled prisoners seeking parole, requiring  the state  to assist them in developing release plans that address their disabilities with an eye toward reducing the chances that the paroled individual will re-offend and be returned to prison.

Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff, Richard Crowell, in this landmark case and was very pleased with his victory. Ensuring proper health care—including mental health services—for prisoners with serious medical needs is one of the organization’s four litigation priority areas.

PLS’s other litigation priorities are staff brutality, unfair and discriminatory segregation, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement, all of which—along with the health issue—the organization believes have reached crisis proportions in the state. For example, Massachusetts is one of a small handful of states in the country that allows solitary confinement for up to 10 consecutive years for one disciplinary offense. PLS is currently supporting proposed legislation to reform the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts, and the organization created a powerful seven-minute documentary video about the lasting effects of solitary confinement. The organization is also advocating legislation that would allow for compassionate release, such as was recently granted former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi at the federal level. Massachusetts is one of only three states that does not provide incapacitated or terminally ill prisoners the ability to die in their community.

Founded in 1972, PLS is funded chiefly by the Supreme Judicial Court and augmented by grants from other funders, notably the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and the Boston Bar Foundation. Led by executive director Leslie Walker, the organization’s small staff of nine lawyers, four paralegals and three support staff serves the entire state and county correctional system. Prisoners and their family members often make contact with PLS through its website or through defense attorneys who alert the organization when they have concerns about how detained or incarcerated clients are being treated within the prison system. Judges occasionally contact them for the same reason. PLS also disseminates a newsletter throughout the correctional system.

Walker’s interest in prisoner’s rights is rooted in her experience representing an inmate on an administrative charge—which she ultimately proved untrue—as a young Northeastern University law student. She recalled how her client once pointed out to her that, among the 45 prisoners in his cell block, many were relatives and friends from the client’s neighborhood. At that point she realized that crime is a byproduct of poverty. The more Walker studied the field, the more she wondered about the purpose of punishment in light of statistics showing that more than 40 percent of prisoners in Massachusetts will be re-incarcerated within three years.

Prison does not prepare prisoners to re-enter society, Walker concluded. They leave with few marketable skills and because of their criminal record, many are barred from living with their families in public housing, families that could potentially provide material and emotional support, creating a recipe for failure in the free world.

Over time, Walker’s philosophy on incarceration has evolved into three principles: 1) reward good behavior 2) ignore bad behavior if you can, and 3) punish in as limited a manner as possible.

“If we viewed corrections in a less politicized way, with a greater respect for the intrinsic dignity of the of the incarcerated population,” says Walker, “we would see that building more jails reinforces the problem rather than reducing it.”


John Carroll is a partner at Meehan, Boyle, Black and Bogdanow, and the immediate past chair of the Equal Justice Coalition. He is a 2016-2017 fellow with the Access to Justice Fellows Program, a project of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and the Lawyers Clearinghouse that enables senior lawyers and retired judges to partner with nonprofit organizations, courts, and other public interest entities to increase equal justice for all.

Lowell Sun

Below is an excerpt from a June 22 article published by the Lowell Sun.

Lawyers for the commonwealth are pushing for a loophole in one of Gov. Charlie Baker’s marquee opioid-legislation reforms, according to civil-liberties groups that are suing the state.

For more than 30 years, public officials and advocates had sought to end the practice — known as Section 35 civil commitment — of sending women addicted to drugs, who have not been charged with a crime, to the prison at MCI Framingham when the primary Section 35 facility for women is full.

After lobbying the Legislature for the reform, Gov. Baker signed a law in January that removed MCI Framingham as the designated overflow facility. But earlier this month, a lawyer for the commonwealth argued in U.S. District Court that the law still allows civilly committed women to be sent to MCI Framingham if the Department of Public Health or Department of Mental Health approve it.

Read more at the Lowell Sun.