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Mass. Dept. of Correction aims to improve treatment of mentally ill inmates, after settlement with federal investigators

New initiatives include better documentation of treatment, increased contact with mental health professionals, and a third-party monitor for the agreement

Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins on Tuesday announced an agreement with the state Department of Correction to settle a federal investigation that found the prison system did not do enough to address the needs of inmates with serious mental health issues.

The DOC has agreed to implement new mental health policies and training to address the findings of a scathing report released in 2020 that found inmates had harmed themselves or even died in custody due to a lack of proper care and supervision, Rollins said.

Investigators found that the department “did not adequately supervise incarcerated individuals in mental health crisis, did not provide them adequate mental health care,” and “used prolonged mental health watches under restrictive housing conditions,” Rollins said in a statement.


The practices were determined to violate the Eighth Amendment, which bars the government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. The investigation was launched in 2018.

“In the instant case, our investigation found unconstitutional conditions and circumstances where incarcerated people in mental health crisis harmed themselves up to and including suicide,” Rollins said.

As part of the agreement, prison staff will be expected to ensure that inmates in mental health crisis receive at least three mental health contacts a day, and that those under “therapeutic supervision,” or mental health watch, interact with support staff, federal officials said.

Staff will also undergo expanded crisis intervention training, with “evidence-based curricula on mental health care, suicide prevention, and de-escalation techniques,” the DOC said in a statement.

State correction officials will also provide “better documentation” of ongoing therapeutic supervision, as well as establish a unit to stabilize and provide treatment for “individuals in mental health crisis who are not improving while on mental health watch,” Rollins said

The state’s correctional mental health director will also help determine the cell conditions and privileges for any inmates on mental health watch, the statement said.


DOC Commissioner Carol Mici said the agency cooperated with the justice department to address the report’s findings.

“The Department has been diligent, transparent, and cooperative with the DOJ to advance our shared goal of improving mental health care for those experiencing a mental health crisis,” DOC Commissioner Carol Mici said in the statement. “We remain deeply committed to the health and well-being of all entrusted to our care while ensuring the protection of their physical safety and civil rights.”

As part of the settlement, the DOC has retained Dr. Reena Kapoor, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, as an independent monitor the state’s compliance with the agreement.

“Dr. Kapoor’s professional experience reflects her indisputable commitment to the care and treatment of individuals suffering from mental illness in correctional facilities,” the DOC said in a statement. “...In fulfilling her mandate at the DOC, Dr. Kapoor will work with a team of committed and experienced professionals with expertise in the field of correctional facility management, direct care, and investigations.”

Many of the mandated improvements are “either complete or underway,” the department said.

The settlement agreement drew the support of at least one advocacy group that has played a critical role in supporting the rights of prisoners.

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts said it was encouraged by the “extensive settlement” regarding “serious problems with mental health watch” that have caused suffering to thousands of prisoners over the years.


“We are hopeful that the settlement will bring much needed change to what has been an overly punitive placement for people in crisis,” said Elizabeth Matos, the group’s executive director. “We will, of course, be monitoring progress ourselves and assessing the impact of these changes on incarcerated individuals within the DOC.”

Material from past Globe stories was used in this report.

Camilo Fonseca can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @fonseca_esq.