Justice Dept. Says Conditions at Massachusetts Prisons Violate the Constitution

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The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC).

The Justice Department concluded that there is reason to believe that the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The department concluded 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 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 revealed that MDOC fails to provide adequate mental health treatment to prisoners experiencing a mental health crisis and instead exposes them to conditions that harm them or place them at serious risk of harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Remedying these deficiencies promptly will ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of these vulnerable prisoners and promote public safety.”

“Our investigation found cause to conclude that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections fails to properly supervise and accommodate prisoners suffering from serious mental health issues,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling for the District of Massachusetts. “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.”

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the MDOC with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

The Justice Department’s comprehensive investigation involved review and analysis of documents, including policies and procedures, mental health records, incident reports, investigative reports, disciplinary reports, and training materials. The department also conducted tours of prison facilities and conducted interviews of administrative staff, security staff, mental health staff, and hundreds of prisoners.

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts initiated the investigation in October 2018 under CRIPA, which authorizes the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities. The department is closing its investigation of geriatric and palliative medical care and restrictive housing other than the restrictive housing on mental health watch.

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