DOJ alleges constitutional violations at prisons in Massachusetts

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Conditions in state correctional facilities violate inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to provide adequate mental health care, leading to self-harm and even death in some cases, federal prosecutors concluded Tuesday after a two-year investigation.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division “found reason to believe” that the state Department of Correction has been violating Eighth Amendment rights, they announced in a press release.

Massachusetts prisoners who suffer from serious mental health crises have not been given the treatment they need, authorities alleged, and instead face exposure to conditions that create risk of harm.

“The Department determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the 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 condition,” officials wrote. “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.”

Investigators reviewed a range of documents, including incident reports and mental health records, and interviewed hundreds of prisoners as well as administrative, security and mental health staff. It did not appear that the probe would prompt charges against the state.

Lelling said the Department of Correction cooperated with the investigation and that his team “look(s) forward to working with state prison authorities to implement reform measures.”

A DOC spokesperson could not be reached for immediate comment Tuesday. 

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