Tag Archive for: Prisoners Legal Services

Advocacy groups urge legislature to revisit no-cost phone calls for prisoners and prison construction moratorium (Various outlets)

A coalition of more than 80 advocacy groups, including Prisoners’ Legal Services and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, called on the Massachusetts House and Senate to return to session and revisit legislation that would make phone calls free for prisoners as well as place a five year moratorium on the construction of new jails and prisons.

Below are excerpts from the news coverage.

The Eagle-Tribune (Oct. 25) and The Salem News (Oct. 31):

Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said offering free phone calls to prisoners is a “no brainer” that was approved with “broad” legislative support.

“It will remove outrageous charges that burden low-income families of people in prison,” she wrote. “It will help children, spouses and parents stay connected with incarcerated loved ones, and it will help people in prison prepare to succeed on release — all at a very low cost to the state.”

Read more from The Eagle-Tribune and The Salem News.

WWLP (Oct. 26):

“Keeping families connected is key to reducing recidivism, making sure transitions back in the community are smoother, and those things right there keep communities safer,” said Mark Martinez from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Read more from WWLP.

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.

Lawmakers urged to make prison calls free in wake of SJC ruling

State lawmakers are being urged to make phone calls for prisoners free following a Supreme Judicial Court decision that allows county sheriffs to continue charging inmates and their families for the communications.

Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts — one of several groups, including the National Consumer Law Center, which argued the case before the SJC — and said the ball is now squarely in the Legislature’s court.

“The prison phone industry is sucking money out of families’ pockets,” Tenneriello said. “These are some of the most low-income and vulnerable families in the state, and disproportionately from communities of color.”

Studies have shown that people who are connected to their families and community during incarceration are far less likely to go back to prison, Tenneriello said.

“We want people to succeed when they get out, and we shouldn’t be putting up barriers between them and their loved ones — it’s just wrong,” she said.

Read more in The Eagle Tribune (May 23).

‘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.

ACLU sues over possible jail loophole