Priority Areas

Prisoners’ Legal Services Litigation Priority Areas are:

Prisoners’ Legal Services has a very small staff. The typical prisoner to lawyer ratio at PLS  is over 3,000 to one. Therefore, while PLS responds to requests for advice and guidance from prisoners and their families on many issues, our work is focused on four key priorities critical to our clients:

The Health Care Project at Prisoners’ Legal Services helps prisoners with serious medical needs that are not being met.  Our advocates counsel prisoners, attorneys, and family members about their right to adequate health care and how to seek treatment internally.  We also advocate directly with jail and prison health administrators over deficient care, and in certain cases we represent prisoners in litigation to remedy constitutional violations.
Mental health care and treatment is a critical component of Prisoners’ Legal Services work. PLS advocates for care and litigates both individual and class action matters on behalf of mentally ill prisoners. Read more about our litigation in this area.

Unconstitutional conditions of confinement can encompass problems that fall under all of PLS’ priority areas, along with other facility-wide or systemic issues.  Prisoners’ constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment prohibits correctional facilities from depriving prisoners of "the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities."  Examples of violations of this right include extreme overcrowding, lack of appropriate sanitation and toilet facilities, failure to meet established safety standards, and unsafe exposure to extreme heat or cold, each of which have safety, health, and mental health implications.  PLS continually undertakes advocacy and institutes litigation to address unlawful and inhumane conditions that arise in state and county correctional facilities throughout Massachusetts. Read more about our litigation in this area.

At any given moment, over 80,000 people across the country are held in solitary confinement, hundreds of them in Massachusetts.  These prisoners are locked in a small, concrete cell, typically with  a solid door which faces a wall at least  23 hours a day, a kind of torture. These men and women get their three small meals a day through a slot in the cell door, and see their loved ones only through glass, if at all. Some states, such as Maine and Mississippi, are starting to see that the over-use of segregation is a costly mistake, leaving prisoners damaged and less prepared to re-enter their communities.   But, sadly, in Massachusetts prisoners can still be held for many years in solitary confinement.  PLS’ litigation aims to ensure that no prisoner is subjected to this torment unlawfully.   Read more about our litigation in this area.

The Prison Brutality Project was created to address the widespread problem of correctional staff abusing their authority by assaulting the men and women who they are employed to keep safe.  The Project’s goals are two-fold.  First, PLS seeks to redress the prisoner for his or her pain and suffering by getting individual compensation for injuries and for the violation of the basic constitutional right to be free from malicious and sadistic abuse at the hands of prison officials.  Second, we aim to deter future assaults and stem the tide of violence by shedding light on such cruelty and by holding correctional staff accountable for their assaultive behavior.  PLS works toward these goals by conducting in depth investigations into prisoner allegations of brutality and by filing as many meritorious lawsuits as our resources allow.  Read more about our litigation in this area.