Court Strikes MA Policy on Juvie Placement

     BOSTON (CN) — Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that the state corrections department illegally barred juvenile homicide offenders from placement in minimum-security jails.
     The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday in favor of a trio of prisoners who were prevented from being placed in a minimum-security facility, despite exhibiting behavior that would have otherwise qualified them for placement if they were not already serving a life sentence.
     Timothy Deal, Siegfried Golston and Jeffrey Roberio are all serving mandatory indeterminate life sentences for homicides they committed while they were minors. They’ve been imprisoned for 15, 40 and 29 years, respectively.
     While the state’s high court did not rule that the Massachusetts Department of Correction violated the U.S. Constitution, as argued by the prisoners, the court did agree that the practice of barring their access to minimum-security facilities violated state law.
     “The department’s failure to consider a juvenile homicide offender’s suitability for minimum security classification on a case-by-case basis amounts to a categorical bar as proscribed by the statute,” Associate Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court.
     Inmates are reassessed every year based on the severity of their crime, past convictions, their behavior and age. Those factors allow the prison to generate a score for each inmate, which is used to determine whether the inmate is eligible for minimum, medium or maximum security.
     Regardless of an inmate’s score, the Department of Correction reserves the right to unilaterally override the score to allow officials to consider any elements that are not a part of score analysis.
     In 2014, the Massachusetts Legislature amended its law for penalties for juvenile murderers, requiring that such offenders have access to minimum security regardless of any special circumstances, assuming the inmate had already scored low enough to be placed into minimum security.
     Deal, Golston and Roberio were each denied minimum security placement, despite scoring low enough, because of the severity of their respective crimes, which the amended law specifically forbids.
     “The department’s current practice of using discretionary overrides to block objectively qualifying juvenile homicide offenders from placement in a minimum security facility unless and until the juvenile has received a positive parole vote contravenes the language and purpose of [state law],” Cordy wrote in a 29-page opinion.
     The prisoners also claimed their constitutional rights were violated, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court determined that placement in minimum security carries an implication that the inmate is on a track toward release.
     Although the high court found that the Department of Corrections violated state law by barring access to minimum security, the court found that the move was not unconstitutional.
     “The petitioners’ argument….amounts to a request to the court to find that juvenile homicide offenders have a constitutionally protected expectation to be released to the community after serving the statutorily prescribed portion of their sentences,” Cordy wrote. “The case law is clear, however, that no such expectation exists.”

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