Massachusetts prisoners may get shorter sentences for organ donations

<span>Photograph: Kim Chandler/AP</span>
Photograph: Kim Chandler/AP

Prisoners in Massachusetts may soon have the option to get their sentences reduced in exchange for donating their organs or bone marrow if a proposed law is passed in the US state.

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A new bill with the aim of establishing an organ and donation program within the state’s department of corrections has been proposed by two state lawmakers – both Democrats.

If it passes into law, then the “program shall allow eligible incarcerated individuals to gain not less than 60 and not more than 365 day reduction in the length of their committed sentence”. Along with the new program, a committee would be established composed of five members responsible for overseeing the scheme. The committee would also decide on eligibility standards for incarcerated individuals interested in the program and “the amount of bone marrow and organ(s) donated to earn one’s sentence to be commuted”.

Currently, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons allows organ donations by inmates only if the recipient is a member of their immediate family, but many state prisons, including those in Massachusetts, have no pathway to organ or bone marrow donation.

No state allows organ donation from executed prisoners, even if they were a registered organ donor.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are currently 104,413 people in the US waiting for an organ transplant, 58,970 of which are on an active waiting list.

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Judith Garcia, a Democratic state representative of Massachusetts’s 11th district in Suffolk and a cosponsor of the bill, said the bill would “restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow” and “recognize incarcerated donors’ decisions by offering reduced sentences”.

Jesse White, the policy director for the Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, issued a statement to McClatchy News which said that racial inequities were a serious problem for communities of color when it came to access to donated organs and marrow but raised doubts about the proposed law as a way of solving the issue.

“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,” White told the news organization.