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'Cruel And Unusual' - Massachusetts Prisons Violate Constitution, DOJ Says

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Hands on fence Photo Credit: Pixabay

Massachusetts’ handling of inmate mental health is so poor it’s a violation of the Constitution, according to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

The Department of Justice was particularly critical of Massachusetts' use of “restrictive housing” to treat people in the midst of a mental health crisis. Restrictive housing is otherwise known as solitary confinement, segregation or isolation for 22 hours or more per day.

Justice agents allegedly found 16 incidents in which prisoners with mental health problems were kept in restrictive housing for 14 consecutive days or longer. 

Massachusetts protocols say prisoners shouldn’t be in solitary for more than four days.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the results of its investigation into the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC). Agents found that a lack of attention to prisoner mental health has led to self-harm and deaths while they were on mental health watch.

Agents said Massachusetts' handling of prisoner mental health crises is so bad, it violates the 8th Constitutional Amendment, which bars “cruel and unusual” punishment.

“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 in a statement for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

“Remedying these deficiencies promptly will ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of these vulnerable prisoners and promote public safety,” he said.

The investigation was conducted in October 2018.

To read the full report and recommended remedies, visit the DOJ online.

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