Skip to main content
Press Release

Justice Department Alleges Conditions at Massachusetts Department of Correction Violate the Constitution

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts

BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division have concluded an investigation into conditions at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) and found reason to believe that the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

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 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.

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 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,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “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,” 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.”

The 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 U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division initiated 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.

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

The report is posted here.

U.S. Attorney Lelling and AAG Dreiband made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory Dorchak and Michelle Leung of Lelling’s Civil Rights Unit and Trial Attorneys from the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division handled the matter.

Updated November 17, 2020

Civil Rights