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Katy Naples-Mitchell

  • Parole In Massachusetts: Free To Go, But Not To Leave

    July 8, 2020

    Nearly 10 years ago, Wilfred Dacier was told he would be a free man. But for Dacier, now 63, his view continued to be a little corner of the town of Gardner that changed only with the seasons. The positive vote he received from the Massachusetts Parole Board in 2010 did not result in his release from the North Central Correctional Institution. That’s nominally because Dacier has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and the parole board made his release conditional upon him moving to a secure facility run by the state Department of Mental Health, which repeatedly declined to give him housing. But Dacier’s incarceration for nearly a decade after being granted parole offers us Exhibit A of why many say the Massachusetts Parole Board is ripe for reform...That Dacier remained in prison at all after being granted parole, let alone for most of a decade, is “crazy,” says Joel Thompson, a managing attorney at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project at Harvard Law School, who represents Dacier. “In 2010 you paroled him, and the only thing he has messed up since then is failing to get DMH to take him. Why aren’t we just hashing out a release plan together?” Dacier’s situation is not unusual, say prisoners’ rights advocates, citing both the parole board’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners and long delays in making decisions and releasing people to the community...Another prisoner, Richard Crowell, took his concerns that he was being refused parole because of a disabling brain injury to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court — and won...Crowell, now in his late 70s, went before the board again in October 2018. His lawyer, John Fitzpatrick, a supervising attorney at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, said in early June that “Richard remains in prison, largely, if not solely, because he is brain damaged and the state can’t figure out what else to do with him.” The parole board notified Crowell last week that he has been approved for release...Katy Naples-Mitchell, a legal fellow with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, says problems with the parole board, and oversight from the governor, are “antithetical to public health, community safety, good governance, and second chances.” She says this is particularly troubling for people of color who disproportionately populate the system. “The failure to hold commutation hearings for hundreds of pending petitions is a dereliction of duty,” she says, “and one of many ways in which the parole board actively perpetuates structural racism.”

  • First County Jail Inmate Dies Of COVID Complications

    May 1, 2020

    A prisoner in the Middleton House of Correction become Massachusetts' first county jail inmate to die of COVID-related causes, heightening concerns among advocates that not enough is being done to reduce incarcerated populations, test inmates or prevent the spread in the state penal system. Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said Thursday that the 41-year-old prisoner died Wednesday, was one of 60 in his facilities to have tested positive for the virus. The prisoner — whose name was not released — had other health issues and had been incarcerated in the jail since Feb. 18, county officials said...Mostly, advocates hope to see the governor and state Parole Board do more to release prisoners. In early April the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that inmates who are awaiting trial and not charged with certain violent, serious offenses can seek release with a presumption that they we will be let go unless they are considered to be an “unreasonable danger” or a flight risk. The court also urged the state Department of Correction and the Parole Board to expedite parole hearings and increase the release of prisoners already approved for parole and those nearing the end of their sentences. Since then, there have been 654 prisoners released pursuant to the ruling, according to the ACLU data tracker. Only 15 of those were released from the state prison system. Katy Naples-Mitchell, a legal fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, says she’s watching the number of cases rise with concern. “We are watching a pretty rapidly moving disaster,’’ she said. “It’s impossible to contain a virus like this inside.”