A Suffolk Superior Court judge on Friday sided with three inmates at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center and two legal organizations suing the state over allegations of misconduct by prison staff in the aftermath of an attack on corrections officers on Jan. 10.
Judge Beverly J. Cannone granted an injunction sought by the plaintiffs to allow prisoners to keep legal paperwork in their cells, have sufficient time during business hours to make attorney phone calls, and have in-person visits with their lawyers, according to court records.
In her decision, Cannone said the preliminary injunction “promotes the public interest."
“Indeed, the court can think of no greater public interest than the protection of individuals’ sacred constitutional rights,” Cannone wrote in her 32-page ruling.
Three inmates at Souza-Baranowski, the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 31. The complaint alleges misconduct and retaliation by prison staff following an attack by inmates that sent four correction officers to the hospital.
After the attack, the prison was locked down. Inmates were returned to their cells, and a tactical team was organized to stabilize operations. Prisoners’ possessions, including legal paperwork, were removed from cells during the lockdown, according to court records.
In her ruling, Cannone ordered prison staff to return legal materials and reinstate attorney visits within 48 hours.
Officials at the Department of Correction contended they were responding to threats of planned violence when they restricted inmates’ access to lawyers and took away legal documents.
The department is considering its options to appeal, a spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday.
“DOC leadership is committed to preserving inmates’ constitutional rights, and to balancing them with our responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for inmates, staff, and visitors,” the statement said.
Lawyer Patty DeJuneas, representing one of the three inmates, called the decision a victory for her client.
“[My client] put himself at risk by speaking publicly about the abuses he suffered at the hands of armed tactical team members, so it is particularly meaningful that Judge Cannone credited his truthful and very compelling testimony,” she said.
Victoria Kelleher, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Department of Correction must answer to the court and the Constitution.
“This decision is an affirmation of the right to counsel — especially for those who need it most, whose voices are too often discounted or ignored,” she said in a statement. “The men who lent their names to this lawsuit, and who testified at great risk to themselves, were rightly vindicated by the Court’s decision."