Rep. Connolly's written testimony in support of decarceration as a response to COVID-19

MAY 5, 2020

Today, Rep. Mike Connolly submitted written testimony to the legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of H.4652, An Act regarding Decarceration and COVID-19. The legislation was filed by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and is co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and 27 others.

The Judiciary Committee conducted todays hearing by "written testimony only" so as to maintain physical distancing during this time of COVID-19 emergency. Rep. Connolly is proud to co-sponsor this legislation, which builds on his advocacy in support of decarceration as a response to COVID-19.

According to Greater Boston Legal Services, COVID-19 has created a dire situation for the thousands of people who are currently incarcerated in Massachusetts. To wit:

Jails and prisons are like cruise ships or nursing homes, where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Over 600 incarcerated people and staff from Massachusetts jails and prisons have already tested positive for the new coronavirus. If we ignore this problem, everyone who is incarcerated could get infected and a staggering number will die.

The SJC has used its power to let out a very small number of people held pre-trial, but 95% of incarcerated people are still incarcerated and at risk. H. 4652 starts addressing this problem by releasing people who are particularly susceptible to the virus, who are nearing the end of their sentence, and who are incarcerated for minor violations. The bill also ensures that all incarcerated people have access to cleaning supplies and ways to stay in contact with their families.

The following is a copy of the testimony Rep. Connolly submitted to the committee via email this afternoon.

Testimony to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary

Dear Chairs Cronin and Eldridge,

I write today to offer formal written testimony in support of H.4652, An Act Regarding Decarceration and COVID-19, filed by Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and co-sponsored by myself and 27 other legislators.

This bill would help to protect the health of a vulnerable population — and by extension, bolster public health statewide — by carefully and thoughtfully releasing various incarcerated persons who pose no immediate physical danger to the public.

To alleviate the disease burden on this vulnerable population, this legislation directs the release of various incarcerated persons, including those who would not qualify for a dangerousness hearing and those who would not pose an immediate safety risk if released. This includes persons incarcerated for possession of a controlled substance, persons who qualify for medical parole, persons within six months of their release date or parole date, persons incarcerated because of a technical parole violation, and other low risk categories.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a lethal threat to people who are incarcerated, a majority of whom are housed in close quarters with no ability to physically distance. Many are elderly with pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk. Combined with inadequate access to hygiene supplies and protective gear, and the fact that many COVID positive individuals remain in close proximity to the rest of the population, a prison sentence has frequently become a death sentence here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — and so we as legislators now have a moral obligation to take action. 

Thank you for your consideration of this bill which appropriately balances public safety needs against the imminent public health threat of COVID-19 while taking immediate and necessary steps to release people from incarceration.  Our communities are safer when our vulnerable populations are safer.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Your in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly