Conditions and Costs

Ahearn v. Vose – Challenge to the lack of adequate sanitation facilities at Southeastern Correctional Center. In 1994, after oral argument in the Appeals Court, PLS negotiated a settlement which required DOC to install toilets at SECC. After the toilets were installed, the Superior Court dismissed plaintiff’s damages claim on qualified immunity grounds. On September 2, 2005, the Appeals Court reversed this decision ruling that plaintiffs confined at SECC between 1991 and 1993 could go forward with a trial on damages. However, we were not able to find any class members who were able to satisfy the various hurdles by the court to be eligible for damages. The case has been dismissed.

Bentley v. Sheriff, Essex County This is a class action challenging the Essex County policy of charging prisoners fees for medical care, including a $30 “medical processing fee” charged to all prisoners upon admission. We are co-counsel in the case with David Kelston and Jeffrey Thorn under the auspices of the National Lawyers’ Guild. After we filed suit, Defendants’ agreed to stop charging the contested fees. The case has been certified as a class action. On February 10, 2014, the court approved a settlement agreement that requires the Sheriff to return all the fees previously taken. Many prisoners have had their money returned and the process is nearly complete.

Doe v. Patrick This class action case challenges the incarceration at MCI Framingham of women with alcohol or substance abuse disorders who have been civilly committed under G.L. c. 123, § 35, and who are neither charged or convicted of a crime. At Framingham these civilly committed women are housed with and treated as ordinary prisoners, and receive no substance abuse treatment. We are co-counseling the case with Wilmer Hale, the ACLU, and the Center for Public Representation. The case has been assigned to Judge Woodlock who granted our motion for class certification on January 13, 2015 and has established a discovery schedule.

Kelley v. Hodgson – This case deals with unlawful conditions and severe overcrowding at Ash Street Jail in New Bedford and the House of Correction in North Dartmouth (Bristol County). In 1998, the court issued a preliminary injunction designed to curb overcrowding. In September 2004, the court expanded the injunction to prohibit the Sheriff from housing prisoners in locked cells that do not have toilets. On September 24, 2008, the court denied, in major part, the Sheriff’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Sheriff has appealed to the extent that the ruling rejected his claim to qualified immunity. On September 24, 2009, the court allowed Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, essentially converting the preliminary injunctions issued in 1998 and 2004 into permanent relief. The Court also held the Defendants are not protected from paying damages by qualified immunity. The Defendants appealed the denial of qualified immunity. However, the parties were able to negotiate a settlement that memorializes all the relief granted by the court, and awards fees to counsel. The Court approved the settlement on December 18, 2012 and we are monitoring compliance.

Nathanson v. Commissioner of Correction . This case challenges the new Department of Correction policy of subjecting prison visitors, including attorneys, to a search by a drug detecting dog as part of the initial screening search. If the dog alerts to the possibility of drugs, the visitor must agree to submit to a further search, including a pat search or strip search. PLS has challenged this policy on grounds that it violates existing Department regulations, and was promulgated without a public hearing as required by the Administrative Procedures Act. There are six plaintiffs, including attorneys and family members of prisoners. PLS is co-counseling with private attorney, Leonard Singer, and the ACLU. On February 28, 2014, the court issued a preliminary injunction barring DOC from using dogs to search lawyers, but denied our motion asking for a similar bar against searches of regular visitors. We are now engaged in discovery.

Petition Seeking Relief from Unjust and Unreasonable Cost of Collect Telephone Calls from Prisoners This is a petition filed with Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable on behalf of prisoners, family members, lawyers, and others who seek relief from the excessive costs and poor quality of telephone calls from prisoners in state and county facilities. In response to the Petition, DTC conducted a well-attended public hearing on July 19, 2012 at which it received powerful and compelling testimony about the high cost and terrible quality of prison and jail phone service. In August, the FCC announced long-awaited limitations on interstate rates, and also stated that further rules on intrastate rates may be forthcoming. On September 26, 2013, the Massachusetts DTC denied the phone companies’ motion to dismiss and announced its intention to open an investigation into the high cost and poor quality of inmate calls in Massachusetts. The phone companies filed a motion asking DTC to hold its investigation in abeyance pending further action by the FCC. On December 11, 2013, the DTC denied the phone companies motion. In addition, on December 18, 2013, PLS submitted comments to the FCC in response to its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which we argue that it should regulation intrastate, as well as interstate, inmate phone rates. The DTC has established a scheduling order and discovery is proceeding.

Richardson v. Sheriff, Middlesex County, et al. – This case concerns overcrowding at the Middlesex County Jail in Cambridge. Although there is a court-ordered population cap at the Jail, the population regularly exceeds the cap by a substantial number. Since existing remedies failed to keep the population below the cap, we filed a motion for further injunctive relief asking the court to enforce the cap by releasing prisoners. The Defendants proposed moving prisoners from the Jail to the House of Correction in Billerica, which is also subject to a court-ordered cap in Doyle v. Sheriff, Middlesex County. We have assembled a team of lawyers, including the ACLU and private counsel to litigate both cases. On June 14, 2013, the Court allowed, in part, plaintiffs motion for further relief, ordering that a hard cap of 230 be established at the Jail, and imposing limits on the total number of prisoners who can be confined at the House of Correction. The Court subsequently imposed separate caps on each unit at the Jail, prohibited placing prisoners in a dungeon-like basement unit, and ordered the Defendants to notify plaintiffs and the Court if the population of any unit goes above the cap. Construction of new buildings at the Jail was complete in June of 2014. As a result, the Court allowed the Sheriff’s motion to close the Cambridge Jail and transfer all detainees to the newly constructed units at the House of Correction. We are continuing to monitor conditions at the House of Correction.

Souza v. Hodgson – Class action challenge to pay-for-stay fees, as well as fees for medical care, haircuts, and GED services, at Bristol County Jail and House of Correction. The court allowed our motion for summary judgment in July of 2004. In August 2004, the single justice denied the Sheriff’s motion relief pending appeal. On March 30, 2005, the court allowed our motion for class certification, and ordered the Sheriff to return the fees. The Sheriff appealed the judgment. On January 5, 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in all respects. On January 7, 2011, the court approved the process for prisoners to get back the fees with interest. Checks were mailed to eligible class members on May 3, 2012. Approximately $75,000 remains in the Settlement Fund, which will be distributed to four organizations in Bristol County that provide drug treatment and other services to former prisoners or individuals at risk of becoming prisoners.