Statement of the Massachusetts Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Regarding COVID-19 and Incarcerated Persons in the Commonwealth

This Statement, issued April 16, 2020, cites a letter CHHIRJ submitted in the emergency litigation Committee for Public Counsel Services & another v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court & others, SJC-12926. Our Managing Director, David Harris, Chair of the State Advisory Committee, helped shepherd the drafting and adoption of this statement.

As stated by various public health experts in their letter to the Supreme Judicial Court, “Unequal distribution of the social determinants of health produces discriminatory incarceration and exposes incarcerated people to great risk of developing serious cases.” This comment does not even address the stark disparities in race, prosecution, and sentencing in a state whose Supreme Judicial Court ruled it was not unreasonable for a Black person to flee the police rather than face the persistent humiliation and danger of racial profiling.

The incarcerated population of the Commonwealth reflects these persistent disparities. The current situation raises forms of disparate treatment by race, national origin, gender, age, and disability in the administration of justice. This is of utmost concern to us as the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights whose mandate is to consider these very matters.

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