DOJ: Conditions for prisoners with mental health issues at Mass. Dept. of Correction violate Constitution

BOSTON — Conditions for prisoners with mental health issues at the Massachusetts Department of Correction violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has found.

The investigation determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the state Department of Correction 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, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday.

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, the statement said.

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the Department provided the Department of Correction with written notice of the supporting facts for the alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them. The Department is closing the portion of the investigation related to restrictive housing and geriatric and palliative care.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement. "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.”

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. "Remedying these deficiencies promptly will ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of these vulnerable prisoners and promote public safety.”

The Department’s 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 U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division began the investigation in October 2018 under the 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.

In a statement, the Department of Correction said it has already started to address the issues raised in the report.

“The Department of Correction continues to work closely with DOJ and has already begun to address the issues raised in the report and maintain the significant progress we have already made. As the report indicates, investigators found no violations in the use of restrictive housing for inmates or in the geriatric and palliative medical care provided to all inmates. The Department remains deeply committed to the health and well-being of all entrusted to our care and fully invested in protecting their physical safety and civil rights.”

—  Jason Dobson, Massachusetts Deparment of Correction spokesman

Individuals with information are encouraged to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office by phone at 888-221-6023 or via email at

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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