Lawyers for a group of sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Correction Monday, alleging that prison officials unlawfully detained their clients after they were ordered to be released from custody.
The civil complaint was filed in US District Court in Boston on behalf of dozens of convicted sexual offenders, according to court records and a statement from the plaintiffs’ law firm, Hedges & Tumposky.
The suit involves the state’s civil commitment process, when offenders deemed “sexually dangerous” are held indefinitely at the Massachusetts Treatment Center, a Bridgewater facility run by the DOC, after they complete their prison terms.
Under state law, treatment center detainees can seek release on an annual basis and are entitled to trials in Superior Court, where a judge or jury decides whether they pose a continued risk to the public, according to the lawsuit.
Offenders are released if they are determined to no longer be sexually dangerous. Plaintiffs say the DOC routinely holds inmates who have won their freedom for a day or more, in violation of state law, while officials complete the process of notifying various agencies of their release.
A DOC said it would not comment on pending litigation.
Michael Tumposky, a lawyer for the offenders, said state law requires prison officials to alert relevant agencies when a treatment center inmate is freed, but that the agency cannot “hold that person in custody until it completes this task.”
“The DOC is basically taking individuals who are as free as you or I, and confining them in state prison — with all the degradations that entails — while they fax alerts and address notifications,” Tumposky said in a statement.
The plaintiffs are seeking $5 million in damages to end the “long-standing practice ... that returned men to prison even after jurors had ruled that they should be set free,” the lawyers said.
Steven Provost, the lead plaintiff, is a Level III sex offender convicted in 1983 of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, according to the state Sex Offender Registry Board website.
He was convicted of the same offense in 1990 and convicted in 2004 of indecently assaulting a person aged 14 or older, the website says. Level III offenders present a high risk to reoffend, according to the state.
Provost, 51, was ordered released from the treatment center on a Friday in April but remained in custody until the following Monday, according to his lawyers.
“I had been waiting years, years, for that day, [t]o hear that I was free,” Provost said in the statement released by his lawyers. “To hear it, and then to turn around and be back in prison — even if for only two or three days — is just a terrible thing.”
Provost is currently living at a Boston homeless shelter, according the registry board.