Settlement reached in Massachusetts mental illness lawsuit

The Disability Law Center of Massachusetts and the state Department of Corrections are waiting final approval of a legal settlement that would overhaul safety conditions in a state prison that has been hit with a rash of suicides in recent years by inmates with mental illnesses.

Hands on prison bars
Prison Case Settled

The Disability Law Center sued the state in 2007, after 15 inmates with mental illnesses at the prison committed suicide in a three-year span, many of whom were locked in solitary confinement for as many as 23 hours per day, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

In response, the state has since create two new units in the prison more conducive to individuals with mental illnesses.

“This provides, and is already providing, meaningful, workable, and appropriate alternatives to isolation,’’ said Disability Law Center lawyer Robert Fleischner in open court recently, according to the article. “There is a time out of cell, and therapy, that is not available to units in the disciplinary unit.’’

The settlement, which is still under seal at the U.S. District of Massachusetts, would require the state to maintain these two units. It would also require the state to develop new new screening and evaluation procedures for mental illnesses.

The court would oversee the process for at least three years to ensure state compliance.

The 2007 lawsuit accused the state of “botched background screenings on suicidal inmates, missing mental health records, and skipped security rounds by officers,” among other charges. The Boston Globe ran an extensive investigation in 2007 into conditions at the facility, titled “Breakdown: The Prison Suicide Crisis.”

Disability Law Center of Massachusetts is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.

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