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Inmate at Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater dies from coronavirus

An inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater died Thursday while hospitalized for the novel coronavirus, the Massachusetts Department of Correction said Thursday night.

The inmate was a man in his 50s who had underlying health conditions, the department said in a statement. He had been quarantined immediately after he began showing symptoms and was taken to a hospital as his condition worsened, according to the department.

A test confirmed his COVID-19 infection, and he remained at the hospital for 10 days as his condition worsened, the department said.

The man had been incarcerated in Massachusetts since 1993 and had been incarcerated in the Bridgewater facility since 2018. His identity was not released.

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“The health of incarcerated individuals, staff, visitors and volunteers is of utmost importance to the department as we continue to take unprecedented steps to prevent COVID-19 introduction and transmission,” Jason Dobson, a Department of Correction spokesman, said in the statement. “DOC leadership, staff, and our contracted medical provider, Wellpath, are focused on reducing, to the greatest degree possible, the potential impact of this virus on our approximately 8,000 inmates.”

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, a non-profit that advocates for the rights of the incarcerated, said in a statement Thursday night that its staff was “very distressed” to learn of the death, which it described as the first death of an incarcerated person in Massachusetts from COVID-19.

“We very much hope that his death and the current suffering of all the other prisoners, correctional officers, and medical staff struggling with COVID-19 in the Commonwealth today propel swift and meaningful action to release people who can safely live in their communities,” the organization said. “Such action must happen as immediately as possible to be effective and to minimize future deaths.”

So far, 23 inmates at the Massachusetts Treatment Center have tested positive for the virus, as have three staff members there, and one medical provider, according to the Department of Correction.

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Elsewhere in the state prison system, one inmate and one employee have tested positive at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution–Shirley, one employee each is infected at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center and the Massachusetts Correctional Institution–Framingham, and a medical provider at the Framingham facility is also positive.

The Middlesex Jail & House of Correction in Billerica, which is overseen by Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, said two inmates and seven employees there have tested positive for the virus. The employees will remain off duty until they are medically cleared to return to work, Koutoujian’s office said in a statement Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Department of Correction notified the state Supreme Judicial Court by letter that an MCI-Shirley inmate was positive for the virus and had been placed under quarantine, and that the facility would be under lockdown for 14 days, according to a copy of the letter posted to the state website.

A day earlier, the state’s highest court heard arguments for and against a widespread release of inmates to help avoid a potentially catastrophic coronavirus outbreak behind bars.

A coalition of defense lawyers and civil rights attorneys argued that prison conditions make containing the virus nearly impossible and asked for the release of nonviolent pretrial offenders, older inmates, and those near the end of their sentences or who are especially vulnerable to the virus. Several district attorneys argued that early release would endanger the prisoners and the public.

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The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is pending.

Vernal Coleman of the Globe staff and correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyCFox


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.