Looking back on the past year, I wanted to see how legislation I worked on has affected people in their real lives.
In January 2017, I filed several criminal justice bills that were signed into law in April as part of the larger omnibus reform bill.. Some of that success was thanks to Jenifer McKim and Chris Burrell of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. They brought public policies like these to life by presenting the stories of real people impacted by them.
In 2016, I learned that the wrongful conviction compensation law I sponsored in 2004 wasn’t helping exonerees the way it was supposed to. It was taking up to three years for exonerees to get compensation, they had few resources while waiting for the money, and the $500,000 cap on compensation was far too low. Remember, these are people who were imprisoned by the state through no fault of their own. So we filed a bill to update the law to try to give those who had been wrongfully convicted a better shot at the outcome they deserved. Jenifer McKim and Chris Burrell of NECIR shared stories on WBGH radio of men whose lives were still upended while they waited for decisions.
Since the bill passed, Kevin O'Loughlin received a settlement of $1 million, which wouldn’t have been possible under the old cap. (The jury
awarded $5 million, but the law still caps compensation at $1 million.)
I hope to see more people -- including Fred Clay -- justly compensated in a timely way under the new law.
The NECIR reporters also covered my medical parole bill on WBUR and in the Globe. They pointed out the growing number and cost of aging inmates. I filed a “compassionate release” bill for multiple sessions, and finally this year it was signed into law with the criminal justice bill. It created a medical parole system that will allow Massachusetts inmates who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated to be released on parole if they meet certain standards.
Despite Governor Baker’s efforts to limit its implementation, the first Massachusetts prisoner was released on medical parole. Alex Phillips’ release was first rejected, and rejected again in September, with Commissioner (now Secretary of Public Safety) Turco saying “I do not believe Mr.Phillips is Terminally ill within the meaning of the statute. Specfically, even though Alex’s Oncologist, who is employed by the DOC, wrote that he has less than 12 months to live and is so incapacitated as to not be a threat to public safety, I ( Turco) do not find him so debilitated as to not be a public safety risk”.
Turco reversed his decision in October and Alex was released on November 1. Alex died November 24.