Segregation

Cantell, et al. v. Spencer, et al. – A class action case filed on January 20, 2012, bringing due process claims on behalf of all prisoners who are or will be confined in long term non-disciplinary segregation in a SMU. As in LaChance v. Commissioner, it requests that all prisoners confined under conditions as restrictive as a DSU be given the procedures described in the DSU regulations. The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss on grounds that the Department of Correction has agreed to apply LaChance to all prisoners. Since the court rejected our claim that the DOC is misapplying LaChance, we have appealed. Argument was held on December 12, 2014.

Disability Law Center v. Commissioner of Correction, et al. – This case is a challenge to the practice of confining prisoners with mental illness in DOC segregation units, including the DDU. PLS is partnering with the Disability Law Center, the Center for Public Representation, Bingham McCutchen and Nelson Mullins. We filed the Complaint in federal court on March 8, 2007. The parties signed a settlement agreement in November of 2011 that requires the DOC to maintain sufficient high security treatment units to house inmates with serious mental illness who would otherwise be in segregation. After several difficult hearings, Judge Wolf approved the settlement on April 14, 2012 and retained jurisdiction to enforce the agreement during a three year monitoring period. Our most recent monitoring site visits took take place on March 9 and 10th. Although there are still significant issues with treatment of prisoners with mental illness placed in segregation, the DOC has, for the most part, been responsive to the concerns expressed by our expert. Although the agreement is scheduled to terminate in April of 2015, the Legislature has enacted a statute which embodies the key elements of the agreement. See G.L. c. 127, § 39, as amended in January 2015.

Ivey et ano. v. Spencer et al. – This case is brought by prisoners sentenced to long-term solitary confinement in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit (DDU). It challenges the DOC’s practice of denying credit towards a DDU sentence for any month in which a prisoner is convicted of a serious disciplinary offenses, is convicted of two less serious disciplinary offenses, or fails to attend a monthly review session. The suit argues that this practice extends DDU sentences without due process, and violates regulations requiring a special DDU hearing before a DDU sentence is imposed. The court granted summary judgment to the Defendants on May 7, 2014. We have appealed and argument is scheduled for May 2015.

LaChance v. Commissioner – This case is part of the long effort by PLS to ensure that prisoners in segregation receive due process. It builds on the foundation established by the SJC more than 20 years ago in Hoffer, and reaffirmed in Haverty. On April 6, 2010, the superior court allowed our motion for partial summary judgment, ruling that because conditions in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center were substantially equivalent to conditions in the Department Segregation Unit (“DSU”) described in Hoffer, its operations must be governed by the DSU regulations. On August 25, 2010, the court denied the defendants’ motion for reconsideration. Defendants appealed on qualified immunity grounds. On November 27, 2012, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court decision that plaintiff’s due process rights had been violated, but held that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the law had not previously been clearly established. Although the Court held that the DSU regulations were not constitutionally required, it ruled that prisoners are entitled, as a matter of due process, to a hearing within 90 days of placement in segregation. On September 19, 2014, the court awarded us $28,578 in attorneys’ fees. The Defendants motion for reconsideration was denied but they have appealed.

Minich v. Spencer This is a class action brought to challenge the excessive and abusive use of seclusion and restraint at Bridgewater State Hospital, which uses these techniques 100 times more frequently than any other psychiatric hospital in the country. We are co-counseling with Eric MacLeish of Clark, Hunt, Ahern & Embry and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee. After long and contentious negotiations we entered into a settlement agreement calling for substantial changes in seclusion and restraint practices. The court preliminarily approved the agreement on December 29, 2014 and gave final approval to the agreement on February 23, 2015. The Disability Law Center has been appointed as an independent monitor to assure compliance. We have also filed a motion for attorneys’ fees.