Tag Archive for: Prisoners Legal Services

After Reforms to Solitary Confinement, Massachusetts Prisoners Say Officials Just Renamed It (Bolts)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by Bolts Magazine on March 29, drawing attention to the violations of solitary confinement reform conditions set out in Massachusetts. Prisoner’s Legal Services’ Jesse White and Bonnie Tenneriello are quoted. 

Massachusetts prison officials put Elosko Brown in isolated housing in 2020 after accusing him of participating in an altercation with guards that January at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the state’s maximum-security prison for men. Brown, who disputes the charge, says prison officials had different names for the units they put him in—the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU) at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Cedar Junction, where he lived until 2021, and the Secure Adjustment Unit (SAU) at Souza, where he’s currently incarcerated and remains in isolation four years later.

But whatever the names, Brown and other people incarcerated in these units say they only replicated the punitive solitary conditions that triggered state reforms several years ago, evading the reforms’ goal to reduce prolonged isolation in the Massachusetts prison system. Over the past year, Brown and others incarcerated in state prisons who say they suffer from long-term isolation have gone to great lengths to protest their conditions and advocate lawmakers for reforms—from launching a hunger strike last October to testifying remotely before a legislative committee in January.

Read more at Bolts Magazine.

Many former prisoners are on parole indefinitely. One year into new rules, it’s finally ending for some. (GBH

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on December 27, revealing positive trends for formerly incarcerated people as they navigate the parole termination process. Prisoners Legal Services’ James Pingeon is quoted. 

Harold Adams spent more than half a century in the state’s criminal justice system — 31 years in state prison, and then another 22 years out on parole in the community.

He spent those two decades checking in with a parole officer at least once a month, restricted from free travel, wary of random searches and, until recently, paying $85 a month in monthly parole fees. Some people in his situation spend the rest of their lives on parole.

But in October, Adams received the good news that his parole had finally been terminated.

“It didn’t sink in immediately,’’ Adams told GBH News in a recent interview. “It was sort of surreal. Thinking in terms of the things that I can now do.”

Adams is one of 13 formerly incarcerated people who had their parole terminated in 2023 by the Massachusetts Parole Board, according to state data obtained by GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting. This is a dramatic increase in the state where only one person received a parole termination since 2018, according to state data.

Read more at GBH.

Executive Director – PLS

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts seeking Executive Director to lead the organization into the exciting next chapter of its distinguished history

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS), a nonprofit public interest law firm founded in 1972 that provides free legal services to individuals incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons and jails, seeks an Executive Director to lead the organization into the exciting next chapter of its distinguished history. PLS is an organization committed to being anti-racist and whose mission is to challenge the carceral system through litigation, advocacy, client counseling, partnership with impacted individuals and communities, and outreach to policymakers and the public to promote the human rights of incarcerated persons and end harmful confinement. The office prioritizes work involving health and mental health care, assaults by staff, extreme conditions of confinement (including COVID, overcrowding, exorbitant prison phone rates), misuse of segregation and isolation, and racial equity. More detailed information is available at PLSMA.org.

With a small staff of attorneys, paralegals and support personnel, we engage in individual and systemic impact litigation; provide direct administrative advocacy regarding incarceration and parole; initiate and support legislation to promote the civil and human rights of incarcerated individuals and their families; work to eliminate institutional racism and its impact on Black and Brown incarcerated individuals in the day-to-day operations of Massachusetts prisons and jails; and, work with the media and community organizations to educate the public about the criminal legal system.

PLS is a fiscally sound, administratively strong agency with 32 dynamic staff members, including 13 attorneys, 19 paralegals and support personnel, and a diverse Board of Directors consisting of attorneys, community leaders, medical professionals, researchers, clients, and former clients.

Responsibilities: The Executive Director of PLS has ultimate responsibility for the programmatic performance, financial strength, and administrative functioning of the organization. The right leader for the organization will successfully engage, motivate, and excite members of the staff and board, as
well as a broad range of other supporters and stakeholders. Key responsibilities include the following:

  •  Develop and expand the financial resources of PLS and ensure rigorous, consistent financial and administrative oversight to enhance and maintain the long-term financial and institutional security of the organization. This includes grant writing and reporting, legislative and private fundraising, annual audit, and tax filings;
  • Provide strong leadership of the staff by inspiring a shared vision and guiding, encouraging, and supporting the staff and the Board in striving to achieve that vision.
  • Provide strong management of staff by encouraging individual initiative and creativity while assuring effective collaboration and rigorous accountability;
  • Support and participate in major or complex litigation to address systemic issues that affect PLS’s clients;
  • Represent PLS in its external relations with the legislature, the courts, and other government entities;
  • Serve as an effective spokesperson for the organization with the media and in the larger community;
  • Work cooperatively with other institutions and organizations to achieve shared goals relating to criminal legal system reform.

Qualifications: PLS seeks an Executive Director with at least 10 years of experience as an attorney and at least five years of demonstrated success as a manager in the nonprofit social justice community. Experience and attributes that will help the Executive Director succeed include:

  • A clear and compelling commitment to the work and mission of PLS;
  • Mature, independent, flexible with strong people skills;
  • Substantial experience in management, administration, or leadership in a non-profit legal or human services program;
  • Record of building high functioning teams, including a demonstrated ability to teach people from diverse backgrounds how to work well with one another;
  • History of creative and demonstrated leadership in policy work and a substantive expertise in legal issues affecting prisoners and their families;
  • Significant commitment, skills, and experience in supervising, coaching, mentoring, and training legal staff;
  • Strong, inclusive, leadership skills and a leadership style that inspires and encourages professional growth in others;
  • Record of effective media relations;
  • Record of effective grant writing and other fundraising activities;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills;
  • Bilingual skills in Spanish, American Sign Language, or other language common in the prison system preferred:
  • Prior experience with low-income prisoners and their families, and a demonstrated ability to relate effectively to a diverse clientele and staff
  • Although a hybrid schedule may at times be possible, the position requires availability to be in Boston Monday through Friday as needed.

This is a full-time exempt position with a salary range starting at $150K. PLS provides a generous benefits package, including 27 vacation days, 17 sick/mental health days, 100% paid health, dental, and vision insurance plans.

People of color, LGBT individuals, formerly incarcerated people and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

We recognize that historically, People of Color and Women might hesitate to apply for a role unless they meet all the listed requirements. We want to emphasize that we value diversity and inclusion, and we encourage candidates from all backgrounds and experiences to apply, even if you do not meet every one of the job criteria. We are looking for people with potential, passion, and a willingness to learn, and we believe that diverse perspectives contribute to innovative solutions and enhanced organizational success. If you are passionate about the role and feel that you could excel in this environment, please don’t hesitate to submit your application.

Please submit a letter expressing your interest, a current resume, a writing sample, and a list of three references to: lrydzewski@plsma.org.

Please submit applications by email only (no phone calls, please).

Massachusetts becomes fifth state in nation to make prison calls free (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on November 17 highlighting the signing of a Massachusetts bill that makes prison and jail calls free. Prisoners Legal Services’ Bonnie Tenneriello is quoted. 

Massachusetts this week became the fifth state in the nation to make prison and jail calls free.

Gov. Maura Healey signed the bill into law on Wednesday that will go into effect Dec. 1 of this year. The move is a victory for advocates and legislators who have sought to lessen the burden on prisoners communicating for years — and through many legislative sessions.

“Ensuring that individuals in state and county prisons can keep in contact with their loved ones is key to enhancing rehabilitation, reducing recidivism, and improving community safety,” Healey said in a written statement. “I’m proud to sign this important legislation and grateful to the Legislature and advocates for their partnership.”

State Sen. Cindy Creem and state Rep. Chynah Tyler were the lead sponsors of the legislation.

In July, the Legislature passed a state budget that included a requirement for corrections officials to make phone calls free for incarcerated people, but Healey pushed back to give more time to implement the program. This week’s legislation also makes video and emails free.

Read more at GBH.

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.