Proposed MA Bill Would Reduce Inmate Sentences If They Donate Organs
- A proposed bill in Massachusetts would create a bone marrow donation program for inmates.
- Incarcerated people could receive between 60 days up to one year off their sentence for donating.
- Legal reform advocates say the proposal is “something out of a science fiction book or horror story.”
Forget sentence reductions for good behavior: With a proposed bill making its way through the Massachusetts legislature, inmates could receive up to a year off their jail sentence by donating their organs.
Bill HD.3822, called the “Act to establish the Massachusetts incarcerated individual bone marrow and organ donation program,” would allow eligible incarcerated people to receive no fewer than 60 but no more than 365 days off their sentences for donating their marrow or organs. It has not passed through the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
The act, if passed, would create a five-person panel to oversee the implementation of the program, made up of two Department of Corrections officials, an organ donation specialist from a state hospital, and two advocates focusing on organ donation and prisoners’ rights. The panel would determine eligibility standards and file reports of annual donations and “estimated life-savings associated with said donations.”
“There shall be no commissions or monetary payments to be made to the Department of Correction for bone marrow donated by incarcerated individuals,” the proposed text reads.
None of the five co-sponsors of the proposed bill responded to Insider’s requests for comment.
State Rep. Judith Garcia, one of the co-sponsors, explained the proposal with an infographic on Twitter, saying the Massachusetts organ donation waiting list has nearly 5,000 people on it, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic residents, with no existing path to organ donation for incarcerated people, even if a relative needed a donation.
The bill would “restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing an opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow,” the graphic read.
—Rep Judith García (@GarciaJudithMA) January 27, 2023
“It seems like something out of a science fiction book or horror story,” Kevin Ring, president of the nonprofit organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told Insider. “It’s just this sort of idea that we have this class of subhumans whose body parts [we] will harvest because they’re not like us or because they’re so desperate for freedom that they’d be willing to do this.”
Ring, a former lobbyist who served 20 months in federal prison on public corruption charges as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, said he would have considered doing anything to reduce his sentence while he was incarcerated, making the whole thing feel like a coercive idea that “preys on that desperation.”
“In most state systems, you earn good time credits from participating in programming that is intended to reduce your risk of reoffending, so those things make sense,” Ring said, listing examples like drug treatment programs and job training to show initiative and work toward rehabilitation. “Those are things that are at least connected, relevant, to releasing them early. This one seems like it’s not, though and it just begs the question, like, how about two years off for a limb, for an amputee? What’s going on here? It’s dark.”
—Kevin Ring (@KevinARing) January 30, 2023
In an email sent to Families Against Mandatory Minimums and reviewed by Insider, a cosponsor of the bill, State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, told Ring the legislation would “only establish support to those incarcerated and provide guidelines, clarity, and transparency for a potential life-saving voluntary deed.”
“Twitter versus reality, I stand by the merit of this bill and with the individuals and families it has the potential to impact,” Gonzalez’s email read.
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, a legal aid group, said in a statement to Insider that the intent behind the bill made sense to try to address issues of racial inequity and the need for organ donation, but didn’t appear to be a comprehensive solution due to the risk of coercion.
“PLS is in touch with the bill sponsors and is cognizant of the significant problem they have identified — racial inequity in our health system that has left BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted by organ and marrow shortages,” Jesse White, policy director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said in a statement to Insider.
“However, we are concerned regarding the potential for coercion and impact of inadequate medical care in carceral settings. We believe the solution must target the underlying structural problems leading to health disparities, including ongoing needless incarceration of so many who could live freely and safely in our communities.”
Ring told Insider he doesn’t think it’s likely the bill will become law, given an especially negative response to it on social media.
“We’re in the criminal justice movement, we appreciate that people make mistakes,” Ring told Insider. “I can’t believe these people are some sort of Frankenstein monsters, I think they just goofed. They’re probably well-intentioned, but it’s just a disastrous idea.”