ACTIVISTS CALL ON MA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION AND GOVERNOR HEALEY TO CHANGE STATE PRISON MEDICAL CONTRACT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Hannah Michelle Brower, hannahmichelle.brower@gmail.com, 504-400-2865

BOSTON – January 12th, 2023 – Activists from the #DeeperThanWater Coalition gathered on Saturday, January 6th, outside the State House in Boston to demand that the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) and Governor Healey take steps to address and prevent medical neglect that is rampant in MA state prisons. 

The DOC has faced increasing scrutiny for medical neglect in MA prisons. In December, Senator Warren and other lawmakers publicly posted a letter to Wellpath, the current medical contractor at MA State prisons, expressing concern about the company’s practices. 

Over the past year, #DeeperThanWater worked with people incarcerated in MA prisons to develop demands for change in the language of the upcoming request for responses (RFR). These demands include a requirement to respond to sick slips (which incarcerated people use to request medical care) in a timely manner, higher fines for the contractor when they do not follow treatment plans, sufficient staffing of all sites, and ability to see providers outside of the prison.

#DeeperThanWater shared these demands directly with the team at University of Massachusetts that is writing the RFR on multiple occasions. However, none of their demands were incorporated into the latest RFR released in November. UMass was paid $510,000 by the DOC to update the contract. Since the RFR states that the DOC has the ability to amend the RFR until January 17th, the activists gathered to demand that the DOC update the RFR to include the demands before then. 

Speakers at the action included several people who are currently incarcerated at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk), including Ronald Leftwich, Michael Mauney II, and Daniel LePlant. Speakers also included Angela Jefferson, who was incarcerated at MCI-Framingham for 31 years and organizes with Families for Justice as Healing, and Sophia Bishop-Rice, executive director at Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries.

Leftwich, who has spent years coordinating restorative justice events at MCI-Norfolk, spoke about the medical neglect he has experienced at MCI-Norfolk in respect to treating glaucoma, an eye condition that can cause blindness if not treated correctly. “Instead of searching the country far and wide for a particular medical provider to provide adequate medical care, we need to amend and strengthen the current contract to ensure that any provider that wins the contract adhere to and follow certain rules and provisions.”

Bishop-Rice, whose uncle Roger Herbert died of stage IV cancer while incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk, named the intersecting harms of incarceration that led to her uncle’s death: “Those of you who follow our work know that the 28 years my uncle spent in prison were also marked by deteriorating and toxic water conditions at MCI Norfolk and other Massachusetts prisons. Directly or indirectly, environmental contamination and medical neglect and abuse led to my uncle Roger’s death.”

Speakers ultimately made the point that conditions inside prisons are never conducive to health and well-being, demanding that Governor Healey and the DOC make all efforts to release incarcerated people so that they can receive quality care and get well in their communities. As organizers work towards an end to policing and punishment, changes to the medical contract would be a step towards improving medical care for incarcerated people in the interim.

#DeeperThanWater started a petition pressuring the DOC to make changes to the contract. As of January 11, over a thousand people have signed the petition.