The Supreme Judicial Court today heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL).

The organizations are asking the Court to take immediate action to limit outbreaks of COVID-19 by reducing the number of people who are incarcerated in Massachusetts jails, prisons, and houses of correction. The ACLU is serving as counsel to MACDL.

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, released the following statement:

“This case presents the criminal legal system with an opportunity to save the lives of incarcerated people who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, and in doing so, to save the lives of countless others. Public health experts agree: the impact of this virus cannot be confined to a prison. Outbreaks in correctional facilities among incarcerated people and staff will lead to surging demand for intensive health care, pushing our already overburdened health care system past the breaking point. This puts all of us at risk. Time is of the essence. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty as a matter of law. Unless we change course now, we’re going to have it as a matter of fact.”

Chauncey Wood, MACDL board member, released the following statement:

“In conceiving this petition, MACDL recognized the need to protect our incarcerated population from the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that the Court and the other parties in our criminal justice system will recognize the moral imperative to protect vulnerable incarcerated people. We hope that the Court moves quickly enough to save lives.”