State responds to prisoners’ lawsuit

Correction officials claim restriction of materials were out of safety concerns

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SHIRLEY — The Massachusetts Department of Correction has fired back at inmates of the MCI-Souza-Baranowski prison suing for having access to attorneys and legal paperwork taken away from them.

The DOC filed an opposition to the inmates’ emergency motion for a preliminary injunction on Friday, claiming the inmates’ issues are “moot” given that their rights to attorney contact and legal material have been restored. Inmates Carl Larocque, Robert Silva-Prentice and Tamik Kirkland originally filed against Thomas Turco, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Commissioner of Correction Carol Mici, and Steven Kenneway, superintendent of the jail, on Jan. 31

“Following near deadly attacks on four correction officers, DOC officials temporarily restricted inmates’ access to certain areas of the prison in order to secure the facility, search for weapons and ensure the inmates’ and officers’ safety,” Jason Dobson, the DOC’s deputy director of communications, said  Monday.

According to the DOC’s opposition document, inmates at Souza-Baranowski were screened and transferred to different sections of the jail after the Jan. 10 attack to prevent future incidents. The north side of the facility now houses inmates with “serious disciplinary infractions,” while the south side of the facility are for those without the infractions.

“I needed to ensure that the perpetrators of the assaults were separated and that there were no other assaults planned,” Kenneway said in his affidavit. “In investigating the assaults, credible threats to staff were discovered.”

Attorney visits for inmates were suspended from Jan. 10 to Jan. 16 while the prison was on lockdown from the attack. The DOC claims that attorney visits were “fully reinstated” at the prison on Jan. 20, with 126 attorney visits occurring between Jan. 20 at Feb. 4.

The jail’s inmate telephone system was also turned off from Jan. 10 to Jan. 24 as a result of the attack.

Kenneway also noted in his affidavit a prior attack on a prison staff member on Dec. 4, 2019, and intelligence gathered afterward that discovered “multiple credible threats of future planned assaults on staff.” He added that DOC staff received threats of rape and murder from Souza-Baranowski inmates after the Jan. 10 attack.

“The inmates at SBCC are volatile and dangerous, as evident from the Jan. 10 attack,” Kenneway said. “Inmates assault staff or other inmates for a multitude of reasons, which could include a minor issue or occur for no verifiable reason at all.”

The DOC also confirmed that its tactical team visited the prison on Jan. 21 to search the facility for weapons and contraband. Sen. Jamie Eldridge said earlier this month that inmates he interviewed on Feb. 2 told him that the tactical team sprayed inmates with pepper spray, and punched and Tased inmates in their “lower extremities” before forcibly removing them from their cells.

The DOC’s opposition statement said inmates in the facility received any items taken for inspection back by Jan. 31.

Eldridge said he visited Souza-Baranowski again Friday to talk to more inmates, who told the senator that some of their personal belongings confiscated by the tactical team have yet to be returned to them. He added that the tactical team was still touring the facility as of Friday despite the prison no longer being on lockdown.

“There’s still frustration,” Eldridge said. “Every prisoner was removed from his cell and put in another cell, that’s quite the change. Some who weren’t even involved in any assaults are asking, ‘Why am I being punished?’ There needs to be more programs and mental health support so the inmates are less likely to be violent.”