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Massachusetts To Reform Prison Care For Mentally Ill Inmates

The Massachusetts state prison system will reform how it cares for inmates with serious mental health issues and supervise prisoners at risk of harming themselves to resolve a years-long civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports Reuters. DOJ said the Massachusetts Department of Correction entered into a settlement agreement after investigators concluded conditions at its prisons resulted in inmates on mental health watch dying or injuring themselves. The two-year investigation was disclosed in November 2020 in a report that found that the constitutional rights of prisoners with serious mental illness were routinely being violated. The new deal calls for improved policies and training that will result in heightened supervision for inmates, increased out-of-cell contact with mental health staff, and the creation of a new treatment-focused housing unit.

An independent monitor, Yale School of Medicine psychiatry professor Reena Kapoor, is tasked with ensuring compliance with the agreement, which U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said highlighted the need for "better mental health treatment in our carceral facilities." The 2020 report found that the prison system failed to supervise prisoners in mental health crises properly and training led staff not to remove items like razors and batteries that inmates could use to harm themselves. The Justice Department found that the prison system's mental health watch involved placing prisoners in "restrictive, isolating, and unnecessarily harsh conditions" for prolonged periods, placing them at risk of harming themselves. Out of the eight prisoners who had died by suicide since 2018, the Justice Department said an "alarming" four were on mental health watch and were supposed to be subject to heightened supervision.


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