Our Mission

Prisoners’ Legal Services promotes the safe, humane and lawful treatment of Massachusetts prisoners through civil rights litigation, administrative advocacy, client counseling, and outreach to policy makers and the public.

Prisoners’ Legal Services Litigation Priority Areas are:

Adopted by the Prisoners’ Legal Services Board of Directors September 2007.


PLS was founded in 1972. The organization emerged from the prisoners’ rights movement of the 1960s, which developed from popular movements in support of civil rights. PLS’ mission is to defend prisoners’ legal, civil and human rights, and advocate for minimal and least restrictive imprisonment through litigation, education, and public policy work. When PLS was founded, the prison population was a fifth of its current size. The issues we face have remained regrettably constant over time.

In the 1980s, overcrowding and mistreatment of HIV-positive inmates joined guard assaults; inadequate medical and mental health care; insufficient programs for rehabilitation, education, employment, and substance abuse treatment; discrimination based on race and gender; lack of physical and program access for handicapped prisoners; barriers to family, friends and legal visits; and abusive application of segregated confinement, as critical problems for our clients.

During the 1990s, explicitly brutal executive policy abandoned rehabilitative for punitive goals throughout the prison system. Educational programs above those leading to a high school equivalency diploma were eliminated. Prisoner contact with the outside world was drastically diminished by ending furloughs and minimizing work-release placements, parole, media access and prison rehabilitative programs staffed by community volunteers.