Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘massachusetts

Where Prison Law Meets Medical Privacy Law

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From the Boston Globe:

A federal judge in Boston ordered a former contractor for the state prison system yesterday to provide him with the psychiatric treatment records of about 25 inmates who committed or attempted suicide while in solitary confinement from 2005 to 2007.

US Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf gave the University of Massachusetts Correctional Health Program until Aug. 27 to turn over thousands of pages of mental health reviews written by therapists after the suicides and attempts. He wants to determine whether he can legally turn them over to a nonprofit advocacy group that has sued the state over the care of mentally ill inmates.

UMass Correctional Health, which is not a defendant in the suit and is a program of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, contends that federal law requires the records to remain confidential under a privilege between psychotherapists and patients. The only way the privilege can be waived, UMass said yesterday, is if the inmates, or their representatives, give permission to release them.

As I’ve noted before, it’s long been observed that extended isolation yields disastrous mental health effects, and psychiatrists who’ve studied these effects consider long-term solitary confinement to be torture. On this subject, Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article remains a must-read overview.

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Written by sara

August 12, 2010 at 5:47 am

Stories You May Have Missed

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A few notable news stories from the past couple of days:

With 8th suicide, appeals for change in prison system“–Boston Globe. The article begins:

Suicides in Massachusetts state prisons are occurring at a rate more than four times the national average this year, prompting advocates and inmates’ relatives to call for an urgent response from state officials — and spurring the Patrick administration yesterday to hire a suicide prevention specialist.

With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.

N.J.’s prison population declines, officials credit less crime, prisoner re-entry programs”–Newark Star-Ledger. Highlights:

With 25,263 inmates in the system as of this month, state prisons still hold more people than they were designed for. And 600 additional inmates will be double-bunked this year to save money. But officials say the overall population shrank because crime was cut, drug courts diverted many people from jail, and programs helped inmates prepare for life on the outside.

“It’s a pretty impressive reduction,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization. “We’re not just talking about a tinkering. It comes about through conscious changes in criminal justice policy.”

Groups sue over banned handbook at Virginia prisons“–Washington Post. Download the complaint PDF here. The basics:

Two civil rights groups have sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for banning a handbook from state prisons that explains the court system, methods for legal research and constitutional rights.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild filed suit Wednesday morning in the Western District of Virginia, claiming that the state violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Congress moves to crack down on prison cellphones“–Salon.

From Inmate to Lawyer—to Judge? Former Prisoner Might Be Appointed to the Massachusetts Bench

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My mom forwarded me an article from this weekend’s Parade magazine about a very interesting Massachusetts lawyer—and possible judicial appointee—who, unlike most lawyers and judges, has experience as a prisoner: “If appointed, [Rick] Dyer would likely be the first judge in U.S. history to bring with him not only a record of drug abuse but also a personal understanding of what it’s like to be homeless, on welfare, and behind bars.” An article from the Mass Lawyers Weekly, copied at the Massachusetts Criminal and Juvenile Defense Blog, has more information about Dyer’s background:

With multiple felony convictions on his record, Dyer made his living back in the day as a common thief. His criminal record includes entries in Brighton, Framingham, Brookline, Natick, Orleans, Marlborough, Waltham, Roxbury and Boston Municipal Court for operating under the influence, breaking and entering, use of a car without authority, disorderly conduct, driving without a license and larceny of motor vehicles. “I could start almost any car there was,” he recalls. “I made attempt after attempt to try to get straightened out, and when I couldn’t do it, I always went back to what I knew best, which was getting high, stealing cars and selling them.” …

With financial assistance from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Services, Dyer attended Boston State College, graduating with honors in 1978. By then, he was clean and had begun volunteering at the Northeastern University School of Law Prisoners’ Rights Project, working alongside the likes of Nancy Gertner (now a federal judge), Jonathan Shapiro, Harvey A. Silverglate and John G. Flym. Those people, Dyer says, encouraged him to take the next step and apply to law school. After receiving a round of rejections the first year, Dyer applied again and was admitted to Northeastern. (Officials at other law schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, told him they could not accept him out of concern that he would sue if he were not admitted to the bar.) He graduated in 1983, only to come up against an unforgiving Board of Bar Overseers, certain members of which were concerned that his criminal record would make him unfit to practice. But with the help of Judge [Chick] Artesani … and others he had met along the way, Dyer applied for and received a governor’s pardon [from Michael Dukakis] on July 6, 1983.

In the almost 30 years since he was admitted to the bar, Dyer has remained clean and built a practice focusing on criminal defense, including juvenile defense.

Written by sara

June 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

Federal Court Allows Transgender Inmate’s Lawsuit over Medical Treatment to Go Forward

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Above: Trailer for the 2006 Outcast Films documentary “Cruel and Unusual

A U.S. district court judge in Massachusetts has denied the government’s motion to dismiss a transgender inmate’s lawsuit alleging she was denied appropriate treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID). The case will now proceed towards trial. The plaintiff, Vanessa Adams, is a federal inmate who was diagnosed with GID in 2005, and thereafter made repeated requests to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that she be provided with treatment, including psychological treatment and hormone therapy. After her requests were denied, she attempted suicide several times and eventually removed her own genitals. She is being represented by three nonprofit legal organizations — the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Florida Institutional Legal Services, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders — along with the national law firm Bingham McCutchen. You can read more about the case and download the plaintiff’s complaint here. The decision is available as a PDF here.

The specific policy Adams challenges is the BOP’s so-called “freeze-frame” policy. Under this policy, the BOP will provide treatment for inmates with GID but only at the level they were receiving prior to their incarceration. That means inmates like Adams, who was only diagnosed after she got to prison, are ineligible for any treatment. (See BOP Program Statement BOP P6031.01(30) — PDF p. 43.) At the motion-to-dismiss stage, the legal issues were mootness and venue. Notably, the judge denied the government’s argument that because the BOP is now providing Adams with hormone therapy, the case is moot: “If this court were to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims at this juncture, based on nothing more than Defendants voluntary cessation of the challenged conduct, without even so much as an assurance from Defendants that the challenged conduct will not recur, it would ‘leave the defendant[s] . . . free to return to [their] old ways'” (PDF p. 10).

Protestors Rally at Massachusetts State House against Bill to Charge Jail Inmates Room & Board

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From the Boston Globe:

Prisoner advocates rallied in front of the State House yesterday, urging lawmakers to reject amendments to the state budget that would require inmates of county jails or state prisons to pay a raft of new fees, including $5 a day to subsidize the cost of their confinement. …

Proponents of the legislation said they are acting following a decision by the state’s highest court this year that rejected similar fees imposed on inmates by Bristol County. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that only the Legislature can set such fees. …

Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a Boston-based civil rights group for prisoners, said the legislation could end up costing the state more money than it raises. …

Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, said the administration opposes the proposed fees.

I posted yesterday on this proposal, but have edited my earlier post to reflect that this budget amendment, although it has passed in the House, still needs to pass in the state Senate to become law. So, readers in Massachusetts, there’s still time to contact your state senators and express your thoughts on this proposal!

Massachusetts May Start Charging Jail Inmates Room and Board

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When a Massachusetts sheriff started charging his jail inmates room and board — $5 a day — the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down the practice, saying that it was the province of the legislature, not individual sheriffs, to provide for such a policy. Well, now the legislature may do just that, in a last-minute amendment to next year’s state budget that passed in the House 93-62, and now goes to the Senate [note: my original post suggested the amendment had passed in the full legislature; edited to reflect that it still needs to pass in the state Senate]. The Valley Advocate, in an exemplary work of local journalism, has the story (well worth reading in full):

The amendment allows sheriffs to charge inmates fees, including a daily room-and-board fee of no more than $5, plus $5 fees for medical and dental visits, $3 for prescriptions and $5 for eyeglasses. Exemptions are made for medical exams upon admission, emergency care, hospitalization, prenatal care for pregnant women, and treatment for contagious or chronic diseases. Inmates could not be denied medical care for lack of funds.

As in the system [Sheriff Thomas] Hodgson had established in Bristol, prisoners who owe money upon their release would carry a debt that would be forgiven if they are not reincarcerated for two years after release. The law also calls for a process that would allow inmates to appeal fees. In addition, sheriffs who want to institute a fee system would need to prepare a report, to be approved by the Secretary of Public Safety, demonstrating its “financial feasibility.” … Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court May Take on Felon Voting Rights

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As explained by Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court signaled today that it may take on the issue of felon voting rights:

In a brief order, the Justices invited the U.S. Solicitor General to offer views on the case of Simmons, et al., v. Galvin (09-920), a test of Massachusetts’ law prohibiting voting by those who were convicted of serious crimes, while they remain in prison. Once the Court receives that response, for which there is no timetable, the Justices will decide whether to accept the case for review. That is not likely to come until the next Term, starting in October.

In the Massachusetts case, the inmates raise two issues: whether denial of voting rights to imprisoned felons violates federal voting rights law, on the theory that race bias in the criminal justice system sends more minorities to prison so the resulting loss of voting privileges is in effect based on race, and whether it violates the Constitution’s ban on ex post facto laws to impose the loss of voting as an after-the-fact punishment for an earlier crime.

Though the First Circuit rejected both of those arguments, the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that an antidiscrimination challenge to felon disenfranchisement may proceed. That ruling is now being reconsidered by the en banc Ninth Circuit.

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