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Press Release

U.S. Attorney's Office Announces Agreement with Massachusetts Department of Correction to Address Unconstitutional Mental Health Treatment of Incarcerated Individuals

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 entered into an Agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) to resolve its investigation into the treatment of incarcerated individuals with acute mental health issues. 

The Settlement Agreement resolves the United States’ claim that the DOC engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

“As prosecutors, we have a duty to enforce criminal laws which can result in sending people to carceral facilities. We also have a duty to ensure that once someone is incarcerated and in the custody and control of a state, local or federal government, that they receive constitutional treatment and adequate mental and physical health care. In the instant case, our investigation found unconstitutional conditions and circumstances where incarcerated people in mental health crisis harmed themselves up to and including suicide,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “We must provide better mental health treatment in our carceral facilities. Statistics show that far too many of the incarcerated population suffers from significant mental health and substance use disorders, among other severe things. Moving forward, we will be working closely with DOC to address and correct the serious issues and violations identified in our November 2020 Notice. This agreement is the product of hard work and collaboration and offers many innovative solutions. Specifically, the creation of a Stabilization Unit, a newly established civilian Support Person position, as well as mandatory out-of-cell mental health contacts. With these innovations, we intend for Massachusetts to become the gold standard in mental health supervision and treatment for incarcerated individuals. DOC could become an example for the nation.” 

“Our investigation found that Massachusetts’ prisons subjected incarcerated people in mental health crisis to prolonged periods of restrictive housing conditions, instead of providing them constitutionally adequate mental health care and supervision,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement ensures heightened supervision, increased out-of-cell contact with mental health staff, and intensive mental health care in a new treatment-focused housing unit when needed.  These reforms will help ensure people receive the services they need when they are in crisis.”

Under the Agreement, the DOC will improve policies and training related to mental health care for incarcerated individuals. These improvements will ensure that individuals in mental health crisis receive three daily mental health contacts; that support staff interact with them while they are on a mental health watch; and that the DOC develop a new unit to provide more intensive mental health treatment for individuals in mental health crisis who are not improving while on mental health watch. In addition, the DOC will provide better documentation of increasing mental health treatment for incarcerated individuals experiencing prolonged mental health crisis. The DOC’s Mental Health Director will now have a role in determining the cell conditions and privileges for anyone on a mental health watch. 

The Agreement also provides for the appointment of an independent monitor, Dr. Reena Kapoor, to ensure compliance with this Agreement. Dr. Kapoor is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. She has previously served on legal monitoring teams that assessed mental health care in prison systems and has published extensively on the intersection between solitary confinement and mental illness. Dr. Kapoor will assess the DOC’s implementation of the Agreement’s requirements; review clinical determinations to ensure adequate mental health treatment for individuals in mental health crisis is being provided; and file public reports on compliance with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division on the progress. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and the Civil Rights Division initiated the investigation of the DOC in October 2018 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, enacted in 1980. This law authorizes the Attorney General to file a lawsuit to address the rights of individuals in institutionalized settings. In November 2020, the Department announced findings that the DOC violated the constitutional rights of incarcerated individuals in mental health crisis. The Department found that the DOC did not adequately supervise incarcerated individuals in mental health crisis, did not provide them adequate mental health care and used prolonged mental health watches under restrictive housing conditions. 

The investigation was conducted jointly by the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts and the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice. This matter is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer A. Serafyn, Chief of Rollins’s Civil Rights Unit and Michelle Leung and Gregory Dorchak also with Rollins’s Civil Rights Unit.

For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Unit please visit www.justice.gov/usao-ma/civil-rights. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

Updated December 20, 2022

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Civil Rights