DELIBERATE INDIFFERENCE: COVID-19 IN MASSACHUSETTS PRISONS
June 23, 2021
The Greylock Glass
By Jason Pugatch
A documentary about the impact that a lack of effective pandemic protocol has had on the Bay State.
One of every three people in Massachusetts jails and prisons was infected with COVID-19, according to data collected by the special master tasked with tracking, overseeing, and coordinating the response to the coronavirus inside these facilities. That’s compared to one in ten within the general population of the Commonwealth.
The data comes from confirmed positive tests, in facilities where regular symptomatic and asymptomatic testing was never implemented. Epidemiologists estimate that actual infections are as high as twice the confirmed reported rate.
Lisa Newman-Polk, an attorney who represents several clients inside Department of Correction (DOC) facilities, said that prisoners who showed signs of illness were transferred to quarantine dormitories, then released back to the general population, without any testing at all. “They get sent to the quarantine unit,” she said. “And if they report having no symptoms after 10 days, and they don’t have a fever, they are sent back to the regular unit.”
“Many of my clients have said that the quarantine conditions have been so egregious and so disgusting and filthy and inhumane that nobody wants to be placed in the quarantine unit,” she continued. “People are desperate to get out of there. So people are saying, I’m fine.”
Lack of testing protocols was one of the DOC’s many failures of leadership during the pandemic. The DOC falls within the executive branch of the Commonwealth, and under the stewardship of Gov. Charlie Baker and Commissioner Carol A. Mici, there seems to have been no systemic protocol for managing the virus inside carceral facilities in Mass.
A blatant path of obfuscation and delay is evident in court filings, with the DOC refusing to implement safeguards, or issue reports on case counts, until ordered to do so by the courts. Before vaccines became available, social distancing and mask wearing were the only known, effective mitigation strategies against the virus. Still, corrections officers were reported to be violating protocols; in other cases, prisoners were prevented from making their own masks.