Prisoners’ Legal Services Briefs PILP on Incarceration Trends and the Organization’s Work

Guest Post: Caroline Donovan (Foley Hoag), Sophia Hall (Lawyers for Civil Rights) and Susanna Jones (Foundation Medicine) are members of the BBA’s 2018-2019 Public Interest Leadership Program.

On January 7, 2019, Prisoners’ Legal Services* (“PLS”) presented to the 2018-2019 class of the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program (“PILP”), about current trends and PLS’s ongoing advocacy on behalf of incarcerated persons. Presenting for PLS was Executive Director Lizz Matos and Staff Attorney Jesse White. PLS is a non-profit legal organization that provides civil legal assistance to people who are incarcerated in Massachusetts state prisons, county jails and houses of correction.

By way of setting the stage, Matos shared some startling statistics, including that 22,000 people from Massachusetts are behind bars today and the rate of imprisonment has grown dramatically in the past 40 years. Furthermore, African Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than their White contemporaries, and Latinos at a rate four times higher. Furthermore, Massachusetts is one of the least progressive states when it comes to parole, only granting parole in approximately 34% of cases, and having a tremendously high return rate for technical violations, rather than new criminal offenses. In 2016, for example, Massachusetts returned almost a quarter of its entire parole population to prison for technical violations.

After setting the stage, Matos and White shared some of the most recent work being managed at PLS. In terms of litigation, for example, they shared challenges with water conditions at MCI Norfolk, asbestos at MCI Framingham, and the 5-person visitor cap at Souza-Baranowski Correction Center. As for legislative work, Matos and White talked about their efforts on behalf of the Criminal Justice Reform bill, particularly as it relates to medical parole, improving the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and efforts surrounding solitary confinement. Finally, PLS shared some insight into a new project regarding the treatment of ICE detainees being held at houses of corrections.

*Prisoners’ Legal Services is a 2019 Boston Bar Foundation grant recipient.

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