Mass. Department of Correction, mental health among prisoners spotlighted after DOJ report

BOSTON — A bombshell announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office on Tuesday.

A 2018-2019 investigation found that the Massachusetts Department of Correction violated the Constitution by providing poor access to mental health care and subjecting inmates to periods of isolation months beyond the MDOC’s own 14-day policy.

“We’ve seen it time and time again. The DOC’s only approach to responding to people’s health is through subjecting them to inhumane conditions. Like extended lockdowns and extreme isolation,“ says Ayana Auborg, a founder of Families for Justice as Healing and works closely with prison populations.

The 28-page U.S. Attorney’s report details: poor training of CO’s, little to no access to psychiatrists, and failure to prevent or respond to incidents of self-harm. Investigators reported “three prisoners told us that correctional officers gave them razors specifically to self-harm.”

“I experienced seeing my friends in mental health watch and they disappear,” says Leslie Credle, a former inmate who works with the National Council for Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

The report also cites one incident at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center where staff did not intervene for 45 minutes after an inmate cut himself and was bleeding out. “The prison, the medical service that gets provided in jail is inadequate and right now, it is non-existent,” says Credle.

Lelling’s office says since 2018, four of the eight MDOC prisoners who died by suicide were on mental health watch at the time, or days prior to dying. While 24 percent of the MDOC’s total population have serious mental illness, prisoners allegedly weren’t given adequate medical care.

The report reads, “counseling, group therapy, individual psychotherapy, or … therapeutic activities are not provided to prisoners on MDOC’s mental health watch.”

Aubourg and Credle say these conditions have only been exacerbated by COVID spread in the MDOC.

“I have people in there that call me that don’t have mental health issues and this COVID lockdown has triggered something in them,“ Credle explains.

Aubourg adds, “We really need state officials and the entire state to step up and part of that is through decarceration and reallocating resources into services that people really need.”

In a statement a MDOC spokesperson said in part, “The Department remains deeply committed to the health and well being of all entrusted to our care.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says the MDOC has cooperated with their investigation and is working to implement reforms.

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