2 Mass. prisons mishandled COVID and neglected prisoners, report by disability advocates claims

2 Mass. prisons mishandled COVID and neglected prisoners, report by disability advocates claims

By Deborah Becker
March 28, 2022

Some Massachusetts prisons fell short in handling the coronavirus pandemic and neglected disabled and medically vulnerable prisoners, according to an investigation by the Disability Law Center.

A new Disability Law Center (DLC) report released Monday examined coronavirus mitigation efforts within specialized medical units at MCI-Norfolk and MCI-Shirley.

Among the more serious findings in the report:

  • the Department of Correction (DOC) did not adequately protect prisoners with disabilities in those two facilities from a resurgence of the virus
  • COVID testing was limited
  • medical and mental health care was unnecessarily restricted while prisons were locked down during the pandemic

“[The] DOC was certainly faced — like many other facilities and the rest of us across the world — with the daunting task of figuring out what to do during the pandemic,” said Tatum Pritchard, interim executive director of the DLC. “We would never suggest that the DOC did not put in a great deal of time and effort into implementing policies and procedures to stem the tide of COVID-19. However, what we found in the end was that DOC’s treatment of people with disabilities fell short and there was neglect.”

Prisoners advocates say the report points to the need for more independent oversight of state prisons. Lauren Andersen was hired late last year as the DOC ombudsman to monitor the department’s coronavirus mitigation efforts. The report says the ombudsman should work to enforce DLC’s recommendations.

“The DLC’s new report is just the latest revelation of the systemic neglect of prisoners’ health in DOC facilities,’ said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts.

According to a state report published in October of last year, 21 people imprisoned by the DOC died of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

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