Is 10 years in Massachusetts solitary confinement torture?

October 19th, 2017

October 18, 2017
The Boston Globe
By Joshua Miller

Massachusetts legislators attempting a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system are grappling with one of the toughest questions in corrections: How long is too long for a prisoner — even one who has harmed a guard or a fellow inmate — to be punished with solitary confinement?

Under current law, prisoners at any state facility can be sentenced by corrections officials to up to 10 years in the state’s toughest solitary, the Departmental Disciplinary Unit in the Walpole prison, where they are housed in a 12-foot-by-7-foot cell and are entitled to five hours a week of outdoor recreation.

Advocates such as Leslie Walker of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts say that’s a “great, hopeful step forward.” But the proposed changes, she said, don’t go nearly far enough to help those in solitary become well, or to release those who are no longer a threat to prison staff and other inmates. She says Massachusetts has fallen far behind other states on the issue.

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A Turnaround: At last, decency at Bridgewater

September 14th, 2017

September 14, 2017
The Boston Globe
By Yvonne Abraham

Just like that.

For decades, Bridgewater State Hospital was a hellhole, the heinous treatment of mentally ill inmates there the subject of countless exposes and lawsuits. Yet, though this place was the moral shame of Massachusetts, nothing ever changed.

Until, quite suddenly, it did.

Who knew this could happen? Only everybody. But there was no political gain in ending the suffering at Bridgewater, so it didn’t happen.

Jim Pingeon knew. The attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services has been fighting for more humane conditions at Bridgewater for 30 years. The state always came up with cheap excuses for its inaction: that inmates here were more violent than those in states that took a less brutal approach; that they have higher rates of substance abuse; that laws here made it harder to subdue them.

“This puts the lie to all the excuses the Department of Correction made for years,” Pingeon said. “How can you deny it now?”

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Is It Addiction Treatment Or Prison? A Look Inside A State Center For Involuntary Commitments

September 14th, 2017

September 13, 2017
By Deborah Becker

Enter the former Massachusetts minimum security prison in Plymouth and you might think it’s still a prison. Men arrive in handcuffs, they wear orange jumpsuits, and they’re monitored by correction officers.

But the men have not committed any crimes. They’re at the new Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center — or MASAC — for court-mandated addiction treatment.

Each year thousands of Massachusetts residents go to court to ask a judge to take the controversial step of involuntarily committing someone else to substance use treatment.

Some say these commitments save lives, while others say forced treatment is ineffective and violates people’s civil rights.

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Prisoners’ Legal Services: Working to Depoliticize Incarceration

September 14th, 2017

August 16, 2017
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Blog
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.

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Sheriff Hodgson strikes again

August 7th, 2017

August 5, 2017
The Boston Globe

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson has hit on a new idea to mistreat the inmates he’s been elected to rehabilitate: deprive them of in-person family visits.

If that seems too cruel to be true, take note that this is the same sheriff who infamously volunteered his prisoners as free labor to build President Trump’s mythical border wall. But Hodgson’s latest volley against prisoner rights is not merely an act of empty political showmanship. He’s nearly finished installing the video equipment that would replace in-person family visits for about 900 of the 1,500 inmates under his control. It gets worse: Ultimately, the plan is to charge families for a video connection to see and speak with their incarcerated loved ones.

Under the plan, video-conferencing with inmates on-site will be free for their relatives, but a remote option will not. If families want to connect using a webcam at home, they will have to pay anywhere from $5 to $20 for a 15-minute video call — with the sheriff’s office taking a commission. “This is the picture the sheriff has in mind: I will save money by not having as many guards, while I earn some money off the backs of poor families,” said Jim Pingeon, director of litigation at the nonprofit Prison Legal Services.

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