Medical & Mental Health

Jails and prisons have a constitutional duty to provide adequate medical and mental health care to prisoners. In most Massachusetts facilities, this work has been outsourced to private contractors. As a result, there are often two bureaucracies involved in providing health care. Serious health care problems should be raised with both the contractor and the correctional administrators who oversee the contract. Contractors can change suddenly, so although the nurse and doctor may stay the same, their employer and their managers may change. Medical and mental health policies and procedures can also change without warning, and health care issues are often subject to a grievance process that is different from the rest of the facility. It takes persistence and patience to find the right audience for prisoners’ health concerns. 

Prisoners with medical and mental health concerns who believe they are not receiving appropriate or timely treatment, are experiencing problems with their medication (or lack thereof), or wish to receive a specific kind of treatment or medication they have been denied, must follow the procedures established for making their complaints known to the Department of Correction. There are separate procedures for medical grievances and mental health grievances, which are detailed in the documents below:

  • Medical Grievance Procedure

  • Mental Health Grievance Procedure


  • PLS has also produced a guide, Assisting Family and Friends of Prisoners with Health Care Issues, providing advice on advocating for adequate care for loved ones in prison.

    For information on other types of medical and mental health concerns, see the self help materials

    Read about PLS’ past and ongoing litigation regarding medical and mental health on the Cases page.