(Boston) – Last Friday, Representative Christine P. Barber and Senator Patricia D. Jehlen joined members of the Harm Reduction & Drug Law Reform Caucus for a tour of MCI-Shirley and a presentation by inmates on various criminal justice issues and recommendations for reform.


“As the legislature considers ways to reduce recidivism and improve the safety of our communities, it is important to hear from those who are affected by prison reforms, the inmates themselves,” Rep. Barber said of the visit to MCI-Shirley. “I appreciated hearing these points of view to inform work in the State House on criminal justice reforms.”


The panel provided legislators the chance to engage with those who would be impacted by comprehensive criminal justice reforms most directly. It consisted of nine inmates who each prepared a presentation, ranging from prison programming to re-entry preparation. Several inmates addressed concern for the lack of opportunity for incapacitated or terminally ill inmates to receive “medical placement.” Massachusetts is one of only five states without a process to place seriously ill inmates, who no longer pose a threat to public safety, in hospice care outside of the prison walls.


Senator Jehlen and Representative Tim Toomey are lead sponsors of a bill that would offer a medical placement option for terminally ill or permanently incapacitated inmates in Massachusetts. H.1628 would allow the Commissioner of the Department of Correction or the Sheriff to petition the court for an order allowing for the transfer of terminally ill or permanently incapacitated inmates in order for them to receive medically appropriate care at an alternative location.


“I met with dozens of bedridden and dying prisoners when visiting the medical facility at MCI-Shirley, many of whom are incapable of posing any safety risk to society,” said Sen. Jehlen. “This bill would save the state money and allow these men to die with a little bit of dignity.”


“Massachusetts remains one of the only states in the country where all terminally ill inmates are kept behind bars until death,” said Representative Tim Toomey, whose staff also attended the visit to MCI-Shirley. “The inmates we are talking about are mostly very frail elders, some with advanced dementia, who pose no threat to public safety and in many cases are unaware that they are even being punished. Our bill would create the option of placing these inmates into more appropriate settings where they can remain supervised, but at far less cost to the taxpayer. It makes financial sense and it’s simply the right thing to do.”

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