Post Date: December 17, 2003

Each year more than 80 Harvard Law students assist prisoners in parole and disciplinary hearings as participants in the school’s Prison Legal Assistance Project. For the first- and second-year law students that participation was threatened by a proposed new rule that would have barred them from representing Massachusetts inmates in prison hearings. However, the new acting commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction has announced that the proposed rule has been rescinded.

“I recognize the important role that law students play in [the prison hearing] process, and understand that they help to ensure effective representation for an inmate, which serves everyone’s interests,” wrote Acting Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy in a letter adivising the program of her decision.

“It’s gratifying that the new Acting Commissioner of Correction rendered her decision on this issue in such a prompt and favorable manner,” said PLAP Supervising Attorney John Fitzpatrick. “This positive outcome will help to ensure PLAP’s ongoing provision of legal assistance to state prisoners, which has benefitted students, clients and correctional staff for over 30 years. We look forward to continuing PLAP’s commitment to quality representation by dedicated student volunteers whose work has been part of a great tradition of public and government service at HLS.”

The new guidelines, initially proposed by former DOC Commissioner Michael T. Maloney, were intended to conform to Rule 303 of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which restricts first- and second-year law students from representing clients at trials. The change was made after it was determined that the parole and disciplinary hearings PLAP members participate in should not be covered by the rule.