Officials at the state’s maximum-security prison in Shirley were responding to “credible threats” of planned violence when they temporarily restricted inmates’ access to lawyers and confiscated personal legal documents following an attack on guards last month, the Department of Correction said in response to a recent lawsuit alleging abuse at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.
Prison officials followed regulations during their response to the Jan. 10 attack by a group of inmates on correctional officers, the agency said in a motion filed at Suffolk Superior Court, including making very effort to provide attorneys with “reasonable access” to clients as soon as safety and security were restored.
Inmates’ legal paperwork was returned, and their ability to call and meet with their lawyers has been restored, according to the motion.
“While some inmate privileges were temporarily suspended and some inmates were moved as staff thoroughly searched the maximum-security facility for weapons and other contraband, including drugs, this process was necessary to prevent further violence,” the Department of Correction said in the motion dated Feb. 7.
The motion from the Department of Correction was in response to a Jan. 31 lawsuit filed in part by three inmates of the prison who alleged that correctional officers had violated inmates’ right to counsel when they blocked or limited access to attorneys and took away court papers in retribution for the attack.
The lawsuit, which also included the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as plaintiffs, sought an injunction to restore full access to attorneys and to return legal paperwork to inmates. The Department of Correction said the lawsuit is moot since inmates now have that access again.
The lawsuit also alleged that inmates were attacked by armed correctional officers in their cells and suffered fist strikes, dog bites, and blows from stun guns. Their personal property was taken away after the attack, the lawsuit said, and inmates were locked in their cells with limited access to showers or ability to make phone calls.
A group of state lawmakers, including Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and Senator Jamie Eldridge, made a surprise visit to the prison on Feb. 2 and met with inmates. Sabadosa and Eldridge were also among a second group of lawmakers who visited Friday.
The legislators are not involved in the lawsuit, but are investigating conditions inside the prison.
Inmates described attacks by a prison Tactical Team, including one case of an inmate with a broken eye socket, said Sabadosa, a Northampton Democrat, in a statement.
The statement also described injuries to inmates from suicide attempts and a “prisoner-on-prisoner” stabbing incident last week, which an inmate said a guard called “free pay-per-view.”
Prisoners attributed the violence to the mixing of gang members and to severely restricted movement in the prison, she said.
“Tensions seem to be very high for both the guards and prisoners, due in no small part to the continued presence of a tactical team that has tasers, dogs, and non-lethal guns that shoot rubber projectiles,” Sabadosa said, “and as such, it is a mischaracterization to claim the prison has returned to normal.”
In his own statement, Eldridge asked the Baker administration, including officials who oversee the prison, to “rethink their universal punishment tactic instituted at SBCC for the past three weeks,” according to the statement. Disciplinary action should be taken only against the inmates who attacked the officers, he said.
Eldridge lauded reforms by prison superintendent Steven Kenneway, who is named as a defendant in the suit and called for more hiring of mental health counselors and social workers, along with more restorative justice and violence prevention programming in all state prisons.
In the Department of Correction motion, the agency offered additional details about the January attack that sent four correctional officers to the hospital.
Two of the officers suffered severe injuries, the agency said: One was treated for head trauma and a badly broken nose, and the other suffered a broken jaw and broken vertebrae in his neck.
A group of inmates tried to take an officer as a hostage in a cell, but he was able to break free, according to the motion.
Several inmates attacked the officers in a planned assault, while 23 inmates were identified as “combatants” in the fray, the motion said.
Kenneway said it was his understanding that the Worcester district attorney’s office is planning on prosecuting those 23 inmates for the assault, according to an affidavit attached to the filing.
Paul Jarvey, a spokesman for the district attorney, said in a statement Sunday that no charges have been filed at this point, and the case remains under investigation.
The January attack followed a Dec. 4 assault on a prison staff member that was planned by four inmates, according to the affidavit.
After the January attack, the Department of Correction followed a “disorder protocol” that is triggered in events like an inmate insurrection, according to the filing.
“Simply put, safety measures in prison disturbances, and their aftermath, are wisely left to the discretion of trained correctional officials,” the agency said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.