Does Forced Rehab Work?

June 6th, 2018

Desperate families are locking up their opioid-addicted relatives for treatment. But the lifeline can be a nightmare.

Mother Jones
June 6, 2018
By Rachel Poser

On a clear night in the spring of 2017, Rob Ponte found himself in the middle of a forest in Massachusetts, chained at his wrists and ankles. He’d just spent hours in the back of a windowless van with three other men, and now he could see a construction trailer illuminated by bright orange floodlights and, in the distance, a clearing with a complex of cinder block buildings. Ponte, then a 30-year-old with a wan face and an athletic build left over from years of playing ice hockey, was taken by uniformed guards and brought into the trailer. He and the other men were told to strip. One by one, they were searched, photographed, and handed orange jumpsuits emblazoned with “D.O.C.” across the back. One of the guards ran through a list of questions: “Are you a member of a gang? Have you ever been incarcerated before?” It was then that Ponte realized he was being locked up.

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State wants to show compassion to ill inmates — and save money

May 21st, 2018

Boston Globe
May 21, 2018
By Jenifer McKim, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

GARDNER — Beyond the barbed wire of a state prison, down a dirt road marked with “no trespassing” signs, lies a hill dotted with PVC-pipe crosses marking the graves of nearly 90 inmates.

The makeshift crosses in this state-owned cemetery bear no names to indicate who lies underneath.

The dead include men convicted of murder and sexual assault who were buried over the last quarter-century; some had spent decades behind bars. Each had no families or friends willing or able to collect their bodies, and were buried here by staff and fellow inmates under the eye of the state Department of Correction.

Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation in April that will allow some of the state’s sickest inmates to be released if they can prove they are no longer a safety risk. That made Massachusetts one of the last states in the union to offer what is often called “compassionate release.”

But the new law may not serve as a significant release valve to offset the rise in elderly and ailing inmates.

Already, Baker has proposed legislation to prohibit the release of inmates who are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, a category that includes 375 elderly inmates.

Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Baker, said last Monday that the administration wants to make sure that prisoners convicted of first-degree murder “serve sentences that match the heinous crimes they committed and are not eligible for medical parole.” Meanwhile, sex offenders would be released only under “detailed procedures established for those unique cases.”

Also last Monday, state lawmakers held a hearing to consider Baker’s amendments. Several prison advocates urged the state not to change the new law.

Joel Thompson, a staff attorney with Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, said most states’ compassionate release laws are too slow and underutilized. “The Legislature got it right and should leave it the way it is,’’ he said.

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Baker attaches “significant” costs to solitary confinement reform

May 15th, 2018

Sentinel & Enterprise
May 14, 2018
By Katie Lannan, State House News Service

BOSTON — A month after Gov. Charlie Baker signed a major criminal justice overhaul into law, debate around the issue is not yet settled, and prisoners’ rights advocates on Monday urged lawmakers to reject some of Baker’s recommended changes to the new law.

Baker signed two criminal justice laws on April 13, and at the same time offered a new bill which he said would make technical modifications he’d already discussed with lawmakers and also address “serious concerns” he had with the some policies pursued in the initial legislation.

“Keeps Them Broken”

Representatives from Prisoners Legal Service and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers testified against the change, arguing it would roll back protections for people with psychiatric disabilities or mental illness.

Prisoners Legal Service staff attorney Jesse White said her organization had “direct experience with many prisoners suffering” under previous definitions of serious mental illness.

“We even had the heartbreaking experience of having a client in the departmental disciplinary unit commit suicide after advocacy failed to get him diverted into a secure treatment unit because he did not meet the definition of serious mental illness to which we would return under the proposed amendments,” she said.

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American Sheriff

May 10th, 2018

Fault Lines investigates the power of US sheriffs and allegations of prisoner neglect and abuse.

Sheriffs and their deputies account for one-quarter of all sworn law enforcement officers in the US.

But unlike police or the FBI, who have clear oversight and a chain of command holding them accountable, sheriffs are elected in often highly partisan elections.

Many sheriffs don’t have term limits, and once they are elected, there are very few checks on their power. They can only be removed when the public votes against them.

Watch the full video here.

Lawsuit targets high cost of phone calls from jail

May 5th, 2018

South Coast Today
May 5, 2018
By Jennette Barnes 

In the days before her fiance’s suicide in jail, Fall River mental health clinician Kellie Pearson argued with him over the cost of his phone calls home.

“For Michael, I think that just put more pressure on him and made him feel worse,” she said.

Michael T. Ray was a big part of her life and their teenage daughter’s life, but the calls from the Bristol County House of Correction, at rates set by a jail contract, were a financial burden.

Now Pearson and three other plaintiffs are suing Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and the telephone contractor, Texas-based Securus Technologies, alleging that the company’s payments to Hodgson’s office constitute “illegal kickbacks” and have nearly doubled the cost of inmate calls.

Lizz Matos, a staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services, said they were able to file the lawsuit now because about 18 months ago, the phone provider wrote to the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable to exempt itself from regulation on the basis of being an Internet Protocol-enabled phone service. As an unregulated company, it can be sued, she said.

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