Key issues of criminal justice reform are debated
Medical parole is being placed out of reach of too many inmates
Re “Medical parole rarely granted to ailing inmates” (Page A1, July 16): The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts is disappointed to find out, in the article by Gal Tziperman Lotan, that only four incapacitated or terminally ill individuals have been released to medical parole by the Department of Correction since this legislation, which we supported, was passed. More than 17 percent of our custodial population in prison is now elderly, despite the fact that people age out of crime. It is far more expensive to house those who are elderly or sick, and prisons are not set up to provide care as hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice does.
By making it more onerous for ill or sick individuals, who often need assistance, to apply, more will die in prison. It is unconscionable that proposed regulations would make it even more difficult for inmates with low risk to public safety to access less expensive treatment in alternative facilities. In the interest of saving taxpayer money and in providing compassion, we hope that the secretary of state’s office will allow current regulations to stand, and see if medical parole is working, before making it harder to access.
One should not have to be a former speaker of the House to garner attention for compassionate treatment.
Criminal justice reform specialist
League of Women Voters of Massachusetts
Correction Dept.’s secure units are not an end run around justice reform
An editorial last week (“State shouldn’t gut new solitary confinement law,” July 15) suggested that the Secure Adjustment Units are simply restrictive housing rebranded to circumvent the Criminal Justice Reform Act and limit oversight by the Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee. This simply is not the case.
The Secure Adjustment Units are implemented as diversionary alternatives to restrictive housing and are based on a programming model that the Department of Correction has used for more than a decade. Inmates placed in the Concord Secure Adjustment Unit, for example, are allowed up to 35 hours per week out of their cells — unrestrained — to congregate and engage in classroom education, mental health counseling, and other social activities. Legislators are free to visit any Secure Adjustment Unit, and the Correction Department will always provide them with data on these units.
Similarly, the temporary regulations currently under review are not intended to limit the committee’s access. We welcome committee member visits. However, for common-sense logistical, privacy, and safety reasons, their visits to correctional facilities must be scheduled in advance so that we can first consider inmates’ programming, recreation, school, and work schedules. We must also consider whether the inmates agree to meet with committee members, and of course we have an obligation to provide the proper security staffing for any visitor to our facilities.
The Department of Correction is proud of the progress we have made internally and with outside stakeholders to implement modern, effective policies that support the successful reentry of those in our custody. Considering public comment and legislative input remains a substantial aspect of that effort.
Department of Correction
Inaction on age-hike crime bill leaves young people at risk
There is one big risk with the proposed legislation to raise the age at which suspected criminal offenders are typically prosecuted as adults: not passing it fast enough (“Youth-crime bill would hike age to 21,” Metro, July 10). Lawmakers debated the issue last year but were reluctant to take action. As a result, another year passed with high-schoolers being sent to adult prisons, where their traumas resurface in harsh practices, such as solitary confinement. More young people who are not even allowed to drink or rent a car have been tried as older adults and offered few services. And more public resources have been spent on senseless and expensive incarceration of young people.
There is great work happening in Massachusetts with emerging adults. It happens in places like the Department of Youth Services and the Massachusetts Probation Service’s partnership with organizations like ours. It happens in specialized units for young people such as the ones in Middlesex and Suffolk County jails. But until we raise the age, hundreds of young people will continue to suffer poor treatment by the justice system every year, with poor results for public safety.
The work of so many of us proves that Massachusetts can do better than that. It’s time to raise the age.
Founder and CEO