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New Massachusetts reform package aims to protect in-person jail visits

The Massachusetts conference committee between the House and Senate recently reached an agreement on criminal justice reform which includes an important measure that will protect in-person jail visits.

by Lucius Couloute, March 26, 2018

Last week, after many months of effort on the part of grassroots organizations and lawmakers, the Massachusetts conference committee between the House and Senate reached an agreement on criminal justice reform – including a measure that will protect in-person visits for incarcerated people and their families.

The bill is quite extensive, but the language around visitation reads:

A correctional institution, jail or house of correction shall not: (i) prohibit, eliminate or unreasonably limit in-person visitation of inmates; or (ii) coerce, compel or otherwise pressure an inmate to forego or limit in-person visitation. For the purposes of this section, to unreasonably limit in-person visitation of inmates shall include, but not be limited to, providing an eligible inmate fewer than 2 opportunities for in-person visitation during any 7-day period.

A correctional institution, jail or house of correction may use video or other types of electronic devices for inmate communication with visitors; provided, that such communications shall be in addition to and shall not replace in-person visitation, as prescribed in this section.

Nothing in this section shall prohibit the temporary suspension of visitation privileges for good cause including, but not limited to, misbehavior or during a bonafide emergency.

The Senate and the House will get opportunities to vote on the bill before it finds its way to Gov. Charlie Baker’s office for a final signature. We encourage lawmakers in Massachusetts to support this policy measure and join advocates from across the country in recognizing that the pernicious, profit driven trend of replacing in-person visits with video chats is an unacceptable one.

Update, April 13 2018: Gov. Charlie Baker signed this bill into law. See coverage by the State House News Service, or a more detailed breakdown of the bill from state Sen. William Brownsberger.

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