At Department of Correction, a death of compassion

28/06/18 0 COMMENTS

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

21/05/18 0 COMMENTS

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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Koutoujian and Walker: Compassionate release programs are good public policy

22/06/17 0 COMMENTS

June 22, 2017
Metrowest Daily News
By Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Leslie Walker

We believe it is time for Massachusetts to join the list of 45 states and the federal government who have instituted Extraordinary Medical Placement, Medical Parole or Compassionate Release programs.

Our incarcerated population is aging, and the graying of corrections has brought with it many logistical and budgetary challenges. The Department of Justice estimates that between 2009-2014 the number of inmates aged 55 and older doubled across the country.

While corrections professionals are trained to address a myriad of situations, treating terminally ill and permanently incapacitated individuals should not be one of them.

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Among state lawmakers, compassionate release of inmates is divisive issue

20/10/16 0 COMMENTS

By Milton Valencia
The Boston Globe
October 20, 2016

State lawmakers applauded the recent request by the federal government to free former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi from prison early under a program for elderly and severely ill inmates, agreeing that DiMasi, who has twice battled cancer while incarcerated, should be home with his family.

Yet attempts to enact a similar program for terminally ill inmates in Massachusetts have floundered for five years in the state Legislature, even though some lawmakers support DiMasi’s early release.

Earlier this year, a bill calling for compassionate release of Massachusetts inmates cleared the Senate. But in the House, the proposal was sent to a committee and then for a study, which effectively killed it for the legislative session.

“We look forward to the next legislative session when we hope the Legislature and the governor agree that releasing prisoners is an opportunity to save money,” said Leslie Walker, head of Prisoners Legal Services, an inmate rights advocacy group.

She added, “Its benefits are many and include the opportunity for critically ill prisoners to receive the individualized, round-the-clock care that prisons do not provide.”

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Dying inmates don’t need to be in jail

27/10/15 0 COMMENTS

By The Editorial Board
The Boston Globe
October 27, 2015

It’s no wonder that state legislators aren’t anxious to establish a way to release prison inmates who are dying or severely incapacitated. What politician wants to be on record expressing sympathy for criminals, even grievously ill ones?

But that’s how legislation under consideration on Beacon Hill has been framed in public discussion: as a “compassionate release” law. It’s a key reason why the bill, in various incarnations, has languished.

The bill has its obvious backers, like the not-for-profit group Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, whose website features a “Compassionate Release” page. But support comes from some law enforcement officials, too, including Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian.

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