Prisoners’ Legal Services is a Massachusetts nonprofit legal services office founded in 1972 that provides civil legal assistance to the approximately 14,000 people incarcerated in Massachusetts state prisons (Department of Correction facilities) and county jails and houses of correction
Who we are
PLS is an organization committed to being anti-racist and whose 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. The office prioritizes work involving health and mental health care, assaults by staff, extreme conditions of confinement (including COVID, overcrowding, exorbitant prison phone rates), misuse of segregation and isolation, and racial equity.
We Focus on 5 main priority areas
As an anti-racist organization, we are committed to approaching all of the following priority areas through a race equity lens.
Medical and Mental Healthcare
PLS 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 our work. PLS advocates for care and litigates both individual and class action matters on behalf of mentally ill prisoners.
Extreme Conditions of Confinement
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 unsafe exposure to extreme heat or cold, each of which has 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 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.
Unfortunately, we are unable to handle criminal matters and other issues not directly related to incarceration.
- PLS staff members communicate with the Department of Correction (DOC), Parole Board, and medical personnel to inform them of our clients’ complaints and advocate satisfactory solutions.
- PLS represents prisoners in civil litigation to address violations of their rights under federal and Massachusetts law and to correct DOC policies and practices not in accordance with state agencies’ legal obligations.
- PLS often engages in strategic and class action litigation to address widespread or systemic problems within the prison system.
- PLS works to educate and inspire members of government and the public to support legislation that respects the interests of prisoners and their families, promotes public safety, and is fiscally sound.