Prisoners Have Died Due To Inadequate Mental Health Services In Massachusetts Prisons, DOJ Finds

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Kaylee Greenlee Immigration and Extremism Reporter
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An investigation into the Massachusetts Department of Corrections found the lack of adequate supervision and treatment for prisoners suffering from mental health issues led to multiple deaths and serious harm, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The investigation concluded that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MDOC) is in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution by failing to provide supervision and health care to prisoners in a mental health crisis, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Some prisoners experiencing a mental health crisis had seriously harmed themselves or died due to the MDOC’s inadequacy, the DOJ found. Of eight inmates who died by suicide between 2018 and 2019, four were on mental health watches when they died, according to the DOJ.

During a 13-month period from July 2018 to August 2019, 106 prisoners harmed themselves while on mental health watches in 688 incidents of self harm, including cutting, attempted hanging, self mutilation and banging their heads against the wall, according to a report of the DOJ’s findings.

“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,” Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a press release.

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

The DOJ also said that some MDOC staff encouraged inmates to harm themselves. “Multiple prisoners reported to us that correctional officers verbally taunt them and encourage them to self-harm,” the DOJ said in the investigation summary.

According to the report, one inmate told investigators he or she was “able to cut on mental health watch because [correctional officers] let me do it. They say, ‘You can do better.’”

The MDOC was given written notice of the alleged conditions, with supporting facts and instructions for the minimum measures that should be taken to help fix the situation, in accordance with the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, according to the DOJ. (RELATED: Ex-Jail Employees Face Cruelty Charges After Forcing Inmates To Listen To ‘Baby Shark’ For Hours)

“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,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said, according to the DOJ.

The investigation reviewed MDOC’s mental health records, training materials, policies, procedures, and incident, investigative and disciplinary reports, according to the DOJ. Officials also interviewed staff remembers and prisoners and toured the department’s facilities.

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