DOC moving slowly on home confinement releases

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 shows that more than half of the people incarcerated in Massachusetts — 7,908 — have been vaccinated.

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

SARAH BETANCOURT

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Gov. Charlie Baker is preparing to launch a COVID-19 vaccination call center next week as frustration grows over distribution problems and lack of supply. There aren’t any details available on the effort, even as vaccinations for people over 75 begin Monday. The state’s weekly COVID-19 report indicates the number of high-risk communities and infections are trending down.

The House and Senate say let’s try this (climate change bill) again.

The House delays its rules debate until July to allow time for a thorough review and to decide what to do about unregistered “opaque coalitions” that lobby lawmakers. 

Opinion: Jim Jordan says the Capitol insurrection unmasks the real terrorist right next door.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The Globe reports that the “Baker administration will have to dramatically step up its game in getting shots into arms” if it is to meet the goal of having most residents vaccinated by the end of the summer. Howie Carr says problems with the state’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines carry echoes of other management failures under Gov. Charlie Baker, from the RMV to the State Police. Baker, he writes, “bleeped the bed. Again.” (Boston Herald) Many communities — including Cambridge, where vaccine maker Moderna is headquartered — have no doses to administer. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross abruptly announced he’s retiring — effective today. Also, scratch that talk of a Gross mayoral run. (Boston Globe) Incoming commissioner Dennis White vows to continue pursuing reforms already underway. (Boston Herald)

Two members of the Swampscott Select Board call for charges against a counter-protester accused of assaulting an 80-year-old Trump supporter to be dropped. They say failure to do so would “further compromise the public’s confidence in our legal system. (Daily Item)

A Springfield mental health clinician working from home faces a more mundane problem: parking tickets are piling up since she can’t leave sessions with distraught clients to move her car. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is deemed 66 percent effective in preventing moderate to severe disease. That’s less than the current two-dose shots. Its effectiveness was lower in Latin America where a new virus strain is emerging. (NPR)

A new report from New York’s attorney general suggests COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes were significantly under-counted — and could actually be 50 percent higher — because residents with the disease who were transferred to hospitals were not included. (New York Post)

Five seniors recount different experiences in securing vaccination appointments for the Patriot Ledger. A popular testing site at Massasoit Community College has closed suddenly with no explanation. Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan claims it’s because operator Fallon ambulance, Massasoit, and the Department of Public Health can’t reach an agreement to continue with the site. (The Enterprise) In a virtual town hall, US Rep. Seth Moulton gets lots of questions about COVID vaccine distribution and says the state needs to do a better job. (Salem News) Some COVID vaccination sites in Fall River will have delayed openings for Phase 2. (Herald News)

Massachusetts is a hotspot for a rare pediatric disease linked to COVID-19. (Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Rep. Lori Trahan tests positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic. (Associated Press)

US Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Jim McGovern join more than 50 progressive House members in supporting recurring cash payments during the pandemic for those who most need them. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

One of the key drivers of the Reddit-fueled runup of GameStop’s stock price is a 34-year-old Massachusetts man named Keith Gill, known on some social media sites as “Roaring Kitty.” His $53,000 investment was worth $48 million at one point this week. (New York Times) Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin called for a 30-day suspension of trading on GameStop. (GBH) The guy who created Reddit’s WallStreetBets group, which served as the main platform for the GameStop surge — and the battering of hedge funds with billions of dollars in losses — “isn’t who you think he is,” says the Wall Street Journal. “Taking on the hedge funds became the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of January 2021,” says the Globe’s Larry Edelman. Secretary of the 

Boston-based WinnCompanies, a major landlord in the area, rolls out a plan to cut evictions at its properties. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Schools report 969 coronavirus cases last week, including 624 students and 345 staff. The numbers are up slightly from last week. (MassLive

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state’s Marine Fisheries Commission passed new right whale protections that target the animals’ entanglements in fishing gear equipment. (Cape Cod Times)

PASSINGS

Actress Cicely Tyson, at 96. (NPR)