#FREEOURFAMILIES

Our community and allies fought to get decarceration and independent oversight in the final FY21 budget! And thanks to the Legislature for overriding Governor Baker’s veto!

NOW OUR FIGHT IS ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION! We are going to KEEP GOING so stay tuned for more actions!

Provisions of FY21 Budget Section 8900-0001

RELEASE PROVISIONS 

1. The Commissioner of Correction shall release, transition to home confinement, or furlough people who can be safely released.

2. Prioritization should be provided to populations vulnerable to serious medical outcomes associated with COVID according to CDC guidelines.

3. The DOC shall consider, but not be limited to considering:

OMBUDSPERSON PROVISIONS

Highlights:

The ombuds office will be funded by the DOC for the duration of the state of emergency relation to COVID-19. The Attorney General, in collaboration with the Department of Public Health, will appoint the ombudsperson to act as the director of an ombudsman's office.  

The ombudsperson will:

The People’s Vision for A COVID Ombuds Office

These recommendations were created by formerly incarcerated people, and family members and friends of currently incarcerated people involved in the Building Up People Not Prisons Coalition led by Families for Justice As Healing. The office must be properly funded from the DOC line item to be effective in accomplishing its goal of saving lives and preventing suffering during this public health crisis.

Recommendations 

Appointment 

We strongly encourage the Attorney General of Massachusetts to appoint Doctor Monik Jiménez C., ScD, SM, FAHA  to serve as the ombudsperson to oversee this office.

Monik C. Jiménez, ScD, SM, FAHA, is an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her NIH-funded research focused on understanding the intersection of sex, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors in stroke inequities, with a focus on women of color. As a 2019 H. Richard Nesson Fellow, she has been funded to examine factors that impact the cardiovascular health of patients who have experienced incarceration, identify ways to support respectful patient-clinician communication about such experiences and inform future policy to support health care equity. In addition, in partnership with community advocacy groups, she is the PI of the INdividuals Speak: Incarcerated during the COVID-19 Epidemic (INSIDE) study to examine the lived experience of conditions of confinement experienced by those incarcerated or detained during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jiménez also recently co-facilitated a Community Town Hall on the impact of COVID19 and the vaccine on incarcerated people as a trusted epidemiologist.

To sign on your organization to support Dr. Jiménez’s appointment click here.

Powers

The ombudsperson should have unrestricted physical access to all facilities, access to interview incarcerated people and their families, Department of Correction staff, all vendors, and should have access to all requested documents and data in a usable format and in a timely manner. This position should offer an annual salary consistent with similar jobs offered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. - at least $105,000 plus benefits annually.

Office staff: The final text of section 8900-0001 of the budget reads: “provided further, that the attorney general, in consultation with the department of public health, shall appoint an ombudsman to act as director of the ombudsman’s office.” The office must be located outside of DOC and Sheriff Department property. We recommend Dr. Jiménez be appointed the Director and be empowered to hire the staff of the ombeudsman’s office including:

  1. Staff Attorney
  2. Research Director
  3. A master’s level or higher qualitative researcher with extensive experience in  interviewing, and surveying directly impacted people
  4. A master’s level or higher data analyst with quantitative experience in data management and analysis of complex data
  5. Research assistants
  6. An office manager
  7. 3-5 hotline staff

Qualifications of each staff position must include: 1) independence from any state agency 2) No previous employment with the DOC, EOPSS, or the Sheriff’s Departments 3) Direct experience with incarceration including prior incarceration and/or loved one’s incarceration

The money for this office must come from the DOC budget, and could potentially be supplemented by grant funding support for outside researchers.

Background

The American Public Health Association and the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine both recommend releasing people from incarceration as a top priority to address the spread of COVID-19 and the preventable suffering caused by infection in our communities. Eight months into this pandemic, the DOC is using only one tool to contain the virus: punishment.

Without oversight the DOC is subjecting people to inhumane conditions including extended lockdowns (essentially mass solitary confinement conditions). People who are incarcerated have a lack of access to fresh air, restricted movement, restricted access to showers, insufficient PPE, inedible food, limited or no access to vital reentry programming, and declining access to health care services including mental health care.  Many incarcerated people already suffer from depression and anxiety, but these punitive measures exacerbate mental illness and can lead to increased suicidality. Decarceration is the gold standard for effectively addressing this pandemic behind bars and necessary for public health in MA.

While amendment #325 is not as strong or far-reaching as we had originally advocated, we believe having this final language in the budget can shift things by:

  1. Requiring DOC to take “all possible measures” to release individuals including but not limited to all of the following: home confinement, furloughs, medical parole, maximizing good time, public health emergency credits
  2. Establishing the independent ombudsman position appointed by the Attorney General in order to hold the DOC accountable for decreasing the population of people incarcerated and following public health protocols

The ombudsperson should be hired from outside of corrections and be responsive to incarcerated people and their families, and should have access to all DOC facilities without restriction and the ability to interview incarcerated people at any time. The ombudsperson must act independently and not be under the control of the DOC. Given DOC’s failure to implement the Supreme Judicial Court’s recommendations and the Executive branch’s failure to act, the Conference Committee has to include Senate Budget Amendment #325 without further compromise.

Incarcerated people, their families, and communities are counting on the legislature to take bold and urgent action. The Conference Committee can take the lead on protecting the health and well being of all residents, including incarcerated people!

Full Text included in the final budget

Read Here in Section 8900-0001: https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2021/FinalBudget 

“provided further, that given the continued prevalence and threat of COVID- 19 within department of correction facilities, the commissioner of correction shall 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; provided further, that the department shall consider, but shall not be limited to considering:

(1) the use of home confinement without exclusion pursuant to chapter 211F of the General Laws;

(2) the expedition of medical parole petition review by superintendents and the commissioner;

(3) the use of furlough;

(4) the maximization of good time by eliminating mandates for participation in programming for those close to their release dates; and

(5) awarding credits to provide further remission from time of sentence for time served during periods of declared public health emergencies impacting the operation of prisons; provided further, that the department shall seek recommendations from public health experts to ensure that policies are appropriate in relation to the 2019 novel coronavirus;

provided further, that funds shall be made available from this item for the creation of an independent ombudsman’s office for the duration of the state of emergency relative to COVID-19 declared by the governor on March 10, 2020; provided further, that the attorney general, in consultation with the department of public health, shall appoint an ombudsman to act as director of the ombudsman’s office; provided further, that the office shall monitor compliance with the requirements of this item relative to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including, but not limited to, actions taken or not taken by the department to ensure the health and safety of individuals under the department’s purview including, but not limited to, employees and inmates, as well as the families of such individuals, and shall have access to information related to the department’s use of the mechanisms for release, home confinement or furlough stated in this item; provided further, that the office shall establish public health standards, using recommended standards and guidance frompublic health experts, to evaluate the department’s compliance or noncompliance with best practices; provided further, that not less than biweekly, the office shall provide the joint committee on the judiciary and the joint committee on public health with a report on:

(A) the department’s efforts to mitigate the rate of infection in

facilities under its purview;

(B) the department’s efforts taken

relative to safe depopulation during the state of emergency relative

to the COVID-19 declared by the governor on March 10, 2020;

© the department’s policies in development to further mitigate the rate

of infection in correctional settings;

(D) the amount of populationreduction achieved to-date by the use of the mechanisms for release,home confinement or furlough stated in this item;

and (E) the department’s compliance or non-compliance with the office’s

established public health standards;

and provided further, that, if the office determines that the department is not taking actions necessary to mitigate the rate of infection in facilities under its purview or is

in noncompliance with its established public health standards, the office may recommend that the joint committee on the judiciary and the joint committee on public health require the commissioner to testify in a publicly available forum to discuss the department’s noncompliance and a remediation plan to meet the office’s public

health standards