Patients call Plymouth addiction center a mere jail

December 4th, 2017

December 2, 2017
The Boston Globe
By Maria Cramer and Felice J. Freyer

In recent years, as the opioid crisis has deepened, the number of people who have turned to the court system for help has skyrocketed. Under a state law known as Section 35, a judge may commit into treatment anyone with an addiction whom family, police, or other law enforcement deem a danger to themselves or others. Some people contest their commitment, but others go without protest, seeing it as their best — even last — hope for recovery.

Massachusetts appears to stand alone in sending some of its civilly committed patients into the care of the penal system. Thirty-three states have laws that allow forced commitment for substance users, but only 14 regularly do so. In 2009, a Department of Correction survey found that no other state sent patients seeking recovery into prison settings.

Maggie Filler, a lawyer with Prisoners’ Legal Services, a nonprofit group that represents people in state prisons and has interviewed patients about the conditions at Plymouth, said the Department of Correction is profoundly ill-equipped to handle patients with chronic addiction.

“This is a fundamental betrayal of the state’s mandate to provide appropriate care when a parent or a loved one says, ‘My son is really at risk,’ ” she said.

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Bill restricts use of solitary confinement

November 28th, 2017

November 24, 2017
The Salem News
By Christian M. Wade

BOSTON — Massachusetts has some of the nation’s harshest solitary confinement rules, allowing inmates to be placed in segregated units for as long as 10 years.

But the state is now poised to ease its restrictive policies as part of a wide-ranging criminal justice bill that could be headed for Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

House and Senate versions of the bill — both approved in the past month — include provisions restricting the use of solitary confinement, requiring mental health assessments of inmates before they are placed in solitary, and requiring more transparency and oversight of the practice.

“The negative effects of long-term solitary confinement are devastating,” said Leslie Walker, executive director of the nonprofit group Prisoners’ Legal Services, which advocates for humane treatment of inmates. “People suffer physically and mentally in solitary confinement and come out permanently damaged.”

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A transgender woman is suing Mass. over placement at male prison

November 15th, 2017

November 15, 2017
The Boston Globe

Being assigned to an all-male prison was traumatic enough. But a transgender woman incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk says she has been subjected to groping and taunting by male prisoners and correctional officers who routinely harass her because she identifies as a woman.

Now, the 52-year-old prisoner, who has lived as a woman and received hormone therapy for nearly 40 years, is suing the Massachusetts Department of Correction in a bid to force the department to move her to the state women’s prison, MCI-Framingham.

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Can You Imagine Spending 23 Hours A Day In A Cell The Size Of A Parking Space?

November 15th, 2017

November 15, 2017
By Bonita Tennierrello

Right now hundreds of Massachusetts prisoners are locked alone in a concrete cell about the size of a parking spot. They can stay there for months or years on end, allowed only one hour a day outside, in a small exercise cage that looks like a dog run. Their meals come through a slot in the cell door. Some tell us their thoughts are racing and they feel the walls closing in. Some get relief by cutting themselves, or by acting out in order to provoke a “forced move” where officers suited-up in tactical gear rush the cell to “extract” the prisoner. They do this just so they can feel contact, feel alive. Others withdraw into themselves. Their world shrinks to their cell, and anything outside becomes frightening and chaotic.

A state prisoner can be sentenced to 10 years of solitary confinement for a single disciplinary violation. Massachusetts is one of only three states that allows for this kind of barbaric sentencing.

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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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