JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SAYS CONDITIONS AT BAY STATE PRISONS VIOLATE THE CONSTITUTION

By Bob Katzen

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division have concluded an investigation into conditions at Massachusetts prisons and say that the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The report determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) fails to provide constitutionally adequate supervision to prisoners in mental health crisis; fails to provide adequate mental health care to prisoners in mental health crisis; and violates the constitutional rights of prisoners in mental health crisis by using prolonged mental health watch under restrictive housing conditions. As a result of these failures and conditions, prisoners in mental health crisis have engaged in self-harm and have died or seriously injured themselves while on mental health watch.

“Our investigation found cause to conclude that the MDOC fails to properly supervise and accommodate prisoners suffering from serious mental health issues,” said Lelling. “The conditions at MDOC facilities show how systemic deficiencies in prison facilities can compound each other and amount to constitutional violations. MDOC has cooperated with our investigation from the beginning and we look forward to working with state prison authorities to implement reform measures.”

“Unfortunately, we are not surprised,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “Far too many people are incarcerated in conditions that threaten their health, safety and human dignity on a daily basis. From providing adequate mental health care to slowing the spread of COVID-19, Massachusetts must do more to save the lives of people in jails and prisons. Above all, Massachusetts must downsize the footprint of its criminal legal system for the sake of public health and justice.”

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