Our View: High suicide rates at Bristol jails should be investigated

July 1st, 2018

South Coast Today
June 30, 2018

No matter how you analyze it, we need to know why nearly 25 percent of the state’s jail suicides between 2006 and 2016 occured in Bristol County jails when only 13 percent of the inmates were housed there.

It doesn’t matter whether the jails are run by a Republican or a Democrat. And it doesn’t matter whether the person calling for the investigation is a Democrat or a Republican.

What matters is that there is evidence of a worrisome trend over a long period of time that Bristol County inmates are losing their lives in significantly higher numbers than in facilities in the rest of the state.

Bonita Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services, says that routine state monitoring of the prisons does not delve into the details about how inmates are treated. She suggests that state officials consider better oversight of all the county jails in Massachusetts. It is the state, not the counties, that funds the county jails.

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Settlement between prisoners, Department of Correction prompts new Hepatitis C protocol

July 1st, 2018

Boston Globe
June 30, 2018
By Danny McDonald

A federal judge has approved a settlement between state prisoners who have Hepatitis C and the state’s Department of Correction that overhauls the agency’s protocol for identifying and treating inmates with the disease.

Under the terms of the settlement, new DOC prisoners will be offered Hepatitis C tests, and a new process for evaluating Hepatitis C patients “will ensure a timely assessment of the severity of their illness,” according to a statement from the attorneys representing the prisoners.

A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 1,000 prisoners with chronic Hepatitis C in 2015.

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At Department of Correction, a death of compassion

June 28th, 2018

Boston Globe
June 28, 2018
By Yvonne Abraham

How meaningful is the state’s new compassionate release law if it doesn’t help a man for whom it seems to have been designed?

That’s the question that must be asked in the case of Alexander Phillips, the first inmate to apply for medical release under the state’s new law, which allows for the early release of terminally ill inmates with less than 18 months to live.

Phillips is serving an 18- to 20-year sentence at MCI Norfolk for manslaughter after pleading guilty to stabbing former friend Anthony Rano during a fight in 2006, when they were both 19. He would be eligible for parole in 2022, but he won’t live that long.

Phillips, 31, has widely metastatic cancer in his colon, liver, pancreas, lungs, and lymph nodes. He has lost 30 pounds since March. His advocates say that walking 25 feet leaves him short of breath and in need of rest, and that he sleeps for much of the day. He’s not expected to last more than a year, his attorney Ruth Greenberg says.

He has also been a model prisoner, participating in every program he could find, tutoring other inmates, and recently receiving a bachelor’s degree from Boston University. Greenberg says he has not been involved in a single fight in 10 years.

If he is released, Phillips’s mother, Ann Burke, an oncology nurse who has worked in hospice, would care for her son in her home, and would buy him private health insurance, so that his care would not be a burden to taxpayers. Norfolk’s superintendent, who knows Phillips and can well assess whether he poses a danger to society, has supported his release.

But, as was first reported by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Phillips’s application was denied on June 15.

Correction commissioner Thomas Turco III decided that Phillips isn’t incapacitated enough to be freed. Because the inmate can walk to his third-floor cell, shower, and walk to his chemo treatments in waist chains and leg irons, his release “would be incompatible with public safety and the welfare of society,” the commissioner wrote.

“His being able to get up and down the stairs to his cell does not equate to his being capable of engaging in a criminal enterprise,” said Leslie Walker of Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts. “We are concerned the Commissioner [will] continue to deny these.”

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Parole board still slow to release inmates 8 years after ex-convict killed officer, critics say

June 26th, 2018

Boston Globe
June 26, 2018
By Maria Cramer

Dominic Cinelli was one year out of prison and on parole when he shot and killed a police officer the day after Christmas in 2010.

Since then, the number of people released on parole has remained consistently low, the state parole board has been stacked with members with law enforcement backgrounds, and the board has become less transparent, according to a coalition of attorneys, criminal justice reform groups, and prisoner rights advocates.

The coalition wrote Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, saying the board is taking longer to decide the fate of inmates and failing to properly consider their mental health and drug use disorders.

A spokesman for Baker said the administration is reviewing the letter. According to parole board statistics, the panel last year voted to grant parole to 52 percent of prison inmates who came before it, and 68 percent of county jail inmates.

Critics said the parole board’s statistics are misleading because they do not take into account the number of people actually released on parole. The board often grants parole close to inmates’ scheduled release dates or places conditions for parole that inmates are unable to meet before their sentence ends, said Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

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State may be violating rights of transgender inmate, judge rules

June 15th, 2018

Boston Globe
June 15, 2018

The Massachusetts Department of Correction may be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the US Constitution by housing a transgender woman in an all-male prison, where she alleges she has been groped and taunted by male prisoners and guards, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Richard G. Stearns of US District Court in Boston rejected the department’s bid to dismiss the inmate’s lawsuit, which seeks to have her transferred to the state women’s prison, MCI-Framingham.

Stearns wrote that the inmate, a non-violent drug offender who has lived as a woman and taken female hormones for 40 years, is likely to prevail in her argument that her incarceration in a men’s prison violates the disabilities act and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection.

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