Ten months after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Department of Correction to provide daily reports to shed light on the COVID-19 situation inside its facilities, questions are surfacing about how the agency is reporting medical parole data.

Part of the point of the court’s April order was to use medical parole as a virus prevention method, granting relief to the most vulnerable prisoners living in tight quarters. But several cases have surfaced where prisoners were released on medical parole or offered medical parole just prior to their death.

The DOC’s reporting to the court notes that 19 prisoners have died from COVID-19, including either in the past five weeks. This did not include two prisoners released on medical parole hours before their deaths during coronavirus outbreaks.

Milton Rice, a 76-year-old prisoner at MCI-Norfolk, died November 25 after having applied for medical parole in March. His wish was granted less than 24 hours before his death. A second prisoner at MCI-Shirley was similarly released. His attorney, Ruth Greenberg, told CommonWealth in November that her client was released “six hours before his death while on a vent at the hospital,” which was not reported as a death in DOC custody.

Joseph Messere, a 68-year-old MCI-Norfolk prisoner had served 40 years of a life sentence for second degree murder and was first eligible for parole in 1995, but had been denied five times. Realizing his age and bronchial asthma put him at risk for COVID, he requested medical parole in March 2020, and was denied in May. By December, Messere was hospitalized with COVID-19 and had been intubated.

The process of petitioning for and receiving a medical parole decision takes many months, but Messere’s attorney, David Apfel, recounted how the Parole Board and DOC called him and said Messere could be released even though he hadn’t initiated a new petition, saying “we really want you client released as soon as possible.” 

The reason for the sudden rush to release, Apfel said, was the need to artificially reduce statistics of the number of incarcerated individuals dying of COVID-19 while in DOC custody. Apfel said he had no interest in “being complicit in their effort to rid themselves of Joe and to grant a meaningless parole,” and didn’t give the permission for Messere’s release. As a result, Messere’s death on December 31 was noted in the DOC’s death count for MCI-Norfolk.

A spokesman for the Department of Correction said the agency has modified its daily reports to the court to include data on COVID positive inmates who were released on medical parole. “The Department of Correction does not grant or deny medical parole based on any criteria other than those set by statute” said the emailed statement.

Apfel said the statement was insulting. “At least in the case of Joe Messere, if not many others, DOC only grants medical parole as a means of washing its hands of responsibility for those under its care and supervision, in a transparent effort to reduce the stats,” he said.

The statute mentioned by the DOC is a part of the 2018 criminal justice reform law authorized by the legislature, which allows for medical parole for terminally ill (likely to die within 18 months) and permanently incapacitated prisoners. “As a person’s medical condition changes, so may eligibility for medical parole: DOC may reconsider a decision based on new medical information,” said a DOC spokesman, although whether this thinking was applied to Messere’s case was not mentioned.

The law requires DOC commissioner Carol Mici to make a decision on medical parole requests within 66 days of receiving petitions, and corrections officials to develop a medical and housing plan in the event the inmate is released.

Advocates have argued the hurdles set by the DOC to acquire medical parole are far too stringent, leading to almost no one getting it. During a Wednesday night forum held by the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Somerville Sen. Pat Jehlen said the agency is not complying with the legislation. “If you’re released hours before your death, that is not the intent of the legislation,” she said.

There have only been 46 medical parole approvals since last May, and it is unclear how many of those individuals have actually been released. Greenberg, who was also part of the forum, said many of those medical approval grants involved requests initiated pre-pandemic. She said she continues to have clients denied, including some on dialysis and bound to wheelchairs. 

There is one well-reported instance where someone has received medical parole but still continues to live–John Stote, convicted of murder, had severe coronavirus symptoms and was granted release, triggering outcry from his victim’s family. 




State tax collections amid the pandemic continue to surprise, coming in $492 million above the forecasted amount during January.

Gov. Charlie Baker says the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury will have neighborhood days, where only those from the surrounding community can get inoculated. It’s part of an effort to increase uptake of the vaccine among people of color.

Opinion: Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan says Mayor Marty Walsh has a lot of work to do as labor secretary in Washington, as well as some unfinished business in Boston before he departs. … Meredith Elbaum of Built Environment Plus urges Baker to take note that net zero buildings make sense. Baker has a climate change bill on his desk that encourages such construction.




On the night before his Senate confirmation hearing to be labor secretary, Mayor Marty Walsh puts Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White on leave after questions emerge about past domestic violence allegations. Walsh appointed White two days earlier in a rushed process after the abrupt resignation of former commissioner William Gross. (Boston Globe

Rockport fires its fire chief amid financial and management concerns. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A resolution condemning the attack on the US Capitol goes nowhere in the Taunton City Council. (Taunton Gazette)


The DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers opens as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site on Wednesday. (Salem News)

The city of Lawrence establishes a call center through which eligible Phase 1 and 2 residents can schedule an appointment for a COVID vaccine. (GBH)

Non-English speaking residents over 75 are struggling to get vaccine appointments (DigBoston) A Spanish version of the story was co-published with El Planeta.

Community groups are launching a vaccination site today in Chelsea, one of the communities hit hardest by COVID-19. (Boston Globe

Cape Cod residents are calling for details about when a mass vaccination might open for the region, (Cape Cod Times)


US Rep. Jim McGovern, who chairs the House Rules Committee, writes in an op-ed that the rules apply to lawmakers too when it comes to members of Congress refusing to walk through metal detectors or undergo US Capitol security screenings. (Telegram & Gazette)

House Republicans vote to keep Rep. Liz Cheney in her leadership position despite her vote to impeach former president Donald Trump. (NPR) Meanwhile, they offered a standing ovation in a private caucus for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has blamed a space ray directed by a Jewish cabal for California wildfires and doubted school shootings. (Washington Post) With House minority leader Kevin McCarthy punting on the issue of Taylor Greene’s extremist statements, the full House, where Democrats enjoy a slim majority, will vote today on whether to strip her of committee assignments. (Politico)

A Globe editorial says President Biden should go big on a stimulus bill, with or without Republican support. 


The Boston City Council votes to forego a special election for mayor. The measure must now be signed by outgoing Mayor Marty Walsh and approved by the Legislature and governor. (WBUR)

Boston City Council president Kim Janey, who is poised to become acting mayor when Walsh resigns and said she is weighing a run for the office this fall, reported raising no money for her campaign account in January. (Boston Herald


CDC director Rochelle Walensky says vaccinating teachers is not a prerequisite for reopening schools safely. (MassLive)

Students at College of the Holy Cross are working to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in real time. (Telegram & Gazette)

Weekly pooled COVID testing will start at 120 schools and districts this month. (MassLive)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley want the Biden administration to wipe out $50,000 in college debt for all borrowers in the country. (Boston Globe


Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has reopened — at 25 percent capacity — and the Museum of Science will welcome back visitors starting next week. (Boston Herald

Downtown Brockton is transformed during movie set preparations for filming Netflix’s comedy “Don’t Look Up,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. 


Cohasset, Scituate, Hingham, and Hull spent $17,000 on what turned out to be a successful effort to prevent all ferry service from being eliminated during the pandemic. (Patriot Ledger)


The Vineyard Wind offshore energy project that the Trump administration threw hurdles in front of is back on track under the Biden administration. (Boston Globe


The Department of Correction offers to shorten prisoners’ sentences if they get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine – then rescinds the offer. (MassLive)

Boston city councilors Andrea Campbell and Julia Mejia want the city’s police department to release publicly the results of an investigation into whether a Boston officer took part in last month’s mob insurrection at the US Capitol. (Boston Globe

A white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, is charged with murder in the shooting death of a black man named Andre Hill. (NPR)

Advocates are pressing the state to automatically expunge prior convictions for marijuana offenses. (Salem News)


The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is launching The Somerville Wire, a web-based news service aiming to cover the city using residents trained through a neighborhood media school, the nonprofit, and DigBoston interns. All articles published in the Wire will be available for republishing by other community news outlets for free. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer, owned by a nonprofit organization, the Lensfest Institute, will outsource its printing to Gannett. (Media Nation)