DOC moving slowly on home confinement releases

Lawsuit alleges agency not complying with law

THE LEGISLATURE a month ago gave the Department of Correction broader authority to release prisoners amid the pandemic, but so far the agency has taken little action.

The legislation, passed via an override of a veto by Gov. Charlie Baker, notes that DOC Commissioner Carol Mici must “release, transition to home confinement, or furlough individuals in the care and custody of the department who can be safely released, transitioned to home confinement, or furloughed with prioritization given to populations most vulnerable to serious medical outcomes associated with COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.”

Prisoners’ Legal Services is suing the agency on behalf of 11 prisoners, saying Mici is not complying with the law. The DOC and the Parole Board, which manages aspects of the home confinement program, take the opposite stance.

Mici noted in an affidavit last week that the DOC plans to release around 25 prisoners to home confinement with electronic ankle monitors on or after February 7. Those releases, however, only impact minimum security prisoners. What has been delayed repeatedly is a decision over what will happen to prisoners at medium and maximum security prisons, where COVID-19 cases have been more prevalent.  

Since the passage of the budget, eight prisoners have died from COVID-19. A total of 19 have died overall, according to DOC counts. Two more died after being released on medical parole hours before their deaths.

The DOC said in a court filing last week that prisoners and their attorneys can’t prove that Mici has been “deliberately indifferent” to inmates during the COVID crisis. The filing pointed to sanitation and social distancing measures, as well as vaccinations, which launched in prisons and jails around January 18.

The latest COVID-19 vaccine report includes a new category that shows 7,908 staff and prisoners have been vaccinated so far. There are currently over 13,000 people incarcerated in Massachusetts jails, Houses of Correction and state facilities. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Parole Board, which is part of the months-long decarceration suit, argued in a recent court filing that prisoners are seeking to “usurp the authority of the Board in violation of separation of powers outlined in state law by altering who the Board must release.” The Parole Board is in charge of a portion of the home confinement program in conjunction with the DOC.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge is allowing the state a week to respond to a filing from Prisoners’ Legal Services.