New Report Strengthens Case That It's Time for the Feds to Let Sal DiMasi Go

Monday, May 13, 2013

Maybe now Sal DiMasi, the 67-year-old, cancer-stricken former Speaker of the Massachusetts House, will have a shot at getting out of prison.
That was my reaction to a recent report (May 1) from Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, who says the federal Bureau of Prisons isn’t managing its “compassionate release” program to optimal effect.
If it were better managed, the Horowitz report says, the government could save a lot of money, reduce prison overcrowding, and not put the public at any greater risk.  All good.  
Many prisoners who fit existing guidelines for compassionate release pose little or no risk because they’re old and in poor health, the report noted.
DiMasi is a gentle, humane, gregarious soul who never threatened anybody’s health or well-being.  The only reason to put him in jail in the first place was to punish him and make an example of him. 
He had broken the law, and violated the trust placed in him by voters, when he facilitated a shady deal to sell computer software to the state.  It was not a particularly sophisticated or clever scheme.  People who know DiMasi well still can’t believe he did it.  It was so out of character.
On November 30, 2011, roughly a year and a half ago, DiMasi began an eight-year sentence.  He’s now served about one-fifth of the time given him by the judge.
You can argue that 18 months in prison is not much, considering what DiMasi was convicted of and the high office he held.  Or you can argue that depriving anybody of their freedom for even a month or two is a big deal.  Time passes slowly when you’re locked in a cage most of the day and ordered around like dog.
I would argue that, just by mishandling DiMasi’s cancer treatment, the Bureau of Prisons inflicted unreasonable punishment on the former speaker and should set him free.  Now.
Remember how DiMasi, only a few weeks into his imprisonment, reported to authorities that lumps had appeared in his neck, and how the cancer, which had started in his mouth, was not definitively diagnosed until the following May, by which time it was a case of Stage 4 oral cancer?
People with that diagnosis usually have less than a 40% chance of being alive in five years.  DiMasi could die before seeing the outside of a prison again.
I would argue that DiMasi’s well documented, decades-long history of helping needy individuals and organizations from across the state, and not just from his North End, Boston, district, is a strong reason to parole him now.   “Sal was always a soft touch.  If you legitimately needed help, you were never turned away from his office,” says a young man who worked for him when he was speaker.
And I would remind anyone opposed to granting DiMasi clemency now that he lost a great deal more than his speakership, freedom and health in the Cognos software scandal.  His reputation was ruined, his savings and assets were consumed in his legal defense, his state pension was rescinded, and his license to practice law revoked. 
DiMasi sits confined and isolated in a distant, out-of-state prison cell, hundreds of miles from his home and family.  Reportedly, he weighs 60 pounds less than he did two years ago, the result of battling cancer and having to be fed through a tube inserted in his stomach.  By any definition, he is a broken man.
Under existing federal regulations, the director of the Bureau of Prisons may ask the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Office of the Deputy U.S. Attorney General to reduce an inmate’s sentence based on “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances that were not known at the time of an inmate’s sentencing.
The federal judge who sentenced DiMasi obviously did not know that the former speaker would come down with cancer.  And he did not know that the Bureau of Prisons would take a “What? Me Worry?” approach to diagnosing DiMasi’s illness and initiating proper treatment.
That sounds like enough “extraordinary” and enough “compelling” to let Sal DiMasi go.  


Anonymous said...

I don't often agree...but I'm with oyu on this one. Dave

Anonymous said...

First instinct is that a corrupt offical should suffer the consequences. After reading about the person and the circumstances, my opinion has changed.

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