Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Our mission is to challenge the carceral system through litigation, advocacy, client counseling, partnership with impacted individuals and communities, and outreach to policymakers and the public in order to promote the human rights of incarcerated persons and end harmful confinement.
Who we are
Prisoners’ Legal Services has a very small staff. The typical incarcerated person to lawyer ratio at PLS is over 1,500 to one. Therefore, while PLS responds to requests for advice and guidance from incarcerated people and their families on issues, our work is focused on five key priorities: Healthcare, Conditions of Confinement, Solitary Confinement, Brutality, and Racial Equity in Corrections.
As an anti-racist organization, we are committed to approaching all of our work through a race equity lens.
Medical and Mental Healthcare
PLS helps individuals with serious medical needs that are not being met. Our Advocates counsel incarcerated individuals, 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 individuals in litigation to remedy constitutional violations. Mental health care and treatment is a critical component of our work. PLS advocates for care and litigates both individual and class action matters on behalf of mentally ill individuals.
Extreme Conditions of Confinement
An individual’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment prohibits correctional facilities from depriving them of “the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities.” Examples of violations of this right include extreme overcrowding, lack of appropriate sanitation, and unsafe exposure to extreme heat or cold, each of which has safety. health, and mental health implications. PLS continually undertakes individual and systemic advocacy and institutes litigation to address unlawful and inhumane conditions that arise in state and county correctional facilities in Massachusetts.
At any given moment, over 80,000 people across the country are held in solitary confinement, hundreds of them in Massachusetts. These people are locked in a small, concrete cell, typically with a solid door that faces a wall over 20 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 people traumatized and less prepared to re-enter their communities. But in Massachusetts, people can still be held for many years in solitary confinement. PLS’ litigation aims to ensure that no person is subjected to this torment unlawfully.
Prison Brutality Project
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 individual 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 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 person’s allegations of brutality and by filing as many meritorious lawsuits as our resources allow.
Racial Equity in Corrections Initiative
The same racial inequities and the disparate impact that plagues black and brown communities exist within the prison system on a heightened scale because behind the prison walls, there is far less transparency, a dehumanizing culture, and little accountability. REICI is an organization-wide effort to eliminate institutional racism and its impact on black and brown incarcerated individuals in the day-to-day operations of Massachusetts’ prisons and jails.
PLS actively works to support legislation that strengthens protections for prisoners’ rights in Massachusetts. Our staff speak regularly at public hearings and work closely with lawmakers to make meaningful legislative changes.
Report details women’s accounts of sexual misconduct by staff in Massachusetts prisons and jails
A report obtained by WBUR attempts to document what’s often a hidden problem: sexual misconduct against women incarcerated in Massachusetts.
The research, from Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, is based on interviews with 22 women, either currently or formerly incarcerated in prisons and jails across the state. Of the women interviewed, the vast majority — 19 women — said they had either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or sexual violence while in custody.
Assaults: Diggs v Mici
The plaintiffs are seeking damages for the injuries suffered during a period of retaliatory force against prisoners, and injunctive relief to prevent such cruel treatment from being inflicted again.