Mass. SJC to decide whether certain offenders will be released from custody due to COVID-19 threat

BOSTON — The state’s highest court will decide if certain offenders will be released from custody due to the increasing coronavirus threat.

Public defenders, the defense bar and others are pressing for vulnerable inmates to be released immediately as the spread of the deadly virus grows every day.

Matthew Parris, a Raynham man and accused child rapist was released last week by a Bristol County judge to protect him from catching COVID-19 in jail. He is currently on home confinement with a GPS ankle monitor.

A man who says he’s directly connected to one of Parris’ alleged victims spoke to 25 Investigates Reporter Ted Daniel on Tuesday, saying “they made him into the victim here while the real victims are at risk now.”

The man went on to say the victims are not the only ones at risk, but rather the community as a whole, reiterating he is a threat.

“What is an ankle monitor going to keep him from when we know the nature of his of his game already?” said the man.

25 investigates attempted to get comment from Matthew Parris, but hasn’t heard back.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said he’s unaware of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the Bristol County detention facilities, saying Parris was released without his consent.

“It was put forth that he has asthma and is at a high risk,” said Quinn. “I would point out that he’s 28-years-old, very serious charges, he should not have been released.”

Quinn is one of seven district attorneys in the state fighting against an effort to release hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates from jails and prisons across the state. The effort is being led by state public defenders, defense attorneys and the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“Keeping them in close quarters where there is lack of sanitation often with no access to any kind of soap or anything like that creates a public health pandemic crisis,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of ACLU Massachusetts.

Those who support the effort say they’re also looking to reduce the number of people entering jails and prisons until the global health threat is over.

“This isn’t just about protecting people who are held in government detention this is about protecting everyone in our communities,” said Rose.

Quinn disagrees, saying it’t not a matter of lacking compassion but rather of ensuring the law continues to be enforced.

“It’s not showing lack of compassion, but you don’t just open the floodgates and let everybody out because of the possibility of this thing occurring.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments on the issue over the phone on Tuesday. Boston 25 News asked for permission to the hearing as it happened, but were denied access to listen to it.

A ruling could come at any time.

More than 16,000 people currently make up the incarcerated population in Massachusetts - how many of those people would be released remains unknown.