Attorneys, prisoners say limits still being imposed at Souza-Baranowksi

DOC says inmates planned additional attacks, have privileges again

ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING INMATES at the maximum security state prison in Shirley are disputing claims by prison officials that restrictions on attorney visits and prisoner access to legal documents following a January disturbance at the prison have been lifted.  

Lawyers for the Massachusetts Department of Correction, in a filing late Friday, called a case filed on behalf of three inmates at the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley “moot” after restrictions on attorney visits and access to legal documents were removed 

The inmates claimed they were restricted from calling their lawyers and did not have access to legal documents during a lockdown spurred by a January 10 attack by inmates at Souza-Baronowski Correctional Center that sent four correctional officers to the hospital. The prisoners say the restrictions violated their rights under the Massachusetts and US constitutions.  

On Monday afternoon, 17 attorneys for inmates at the prison challenged the claim by prison officials that limits on attorney visits and access to legal documents have been lifted. In eight separate affidavitslawyers say their clients have had not access to legal paperwork or have had limited or no attorney visits since before January 10.  

In a Monday afternoon hearing in the case, Superior Court Judge Beverly Cannonsaid it seems clear to me that we have a fact dispute” over whether everything has returned to normal at Souza-Baranowski, as alleged by the DOC. Cannone scheduled an evidentiary hearing for Thursday on the right to counsel, contact versus no-contact visits, and access to legal paperwork.  

Staff at the maximum security prison, which houses about 700 inmates, responded to the melee by locking down the entire facility for more than two weeks.  

The department confirmed in its filing that the inmate access to telephone calls was suspended from January 10 to January 24.  

“While some inmate privileges were temporarily suspended and some inmates were moved as staff thoroughly searched the maximum-security facility for weapons and other contraband, including drugs, this process was necessary to prevent further violence,” the Department of Correction motion reads.  

Officials at the prison were responding to “credible threats” of additional inmate assaults, including threats of “rape, murder, and hostage taking of DOC staff, according to the motion.  

As part of their intelligence gathering effort, prison officials say they suspended attorney visits from January 10 to January 16. The Department of Correction disputes the claim by inmates that they were cut off from their lawyers for two weeks, saying attorney visits have been allowed since January 17, “if necessary.” However, the department’s filing shows that the privilege was suspended again for one day on January 21 when the inmates were moved to new units.  

Prisoners say correctional officers have retaliated for the January 10 attack, which the union that represents guards says was initiated by the Latin Kings gang. Among the accusations from prisoners is that they’ve been subject to unprovoked attacks, beatings, choking, and tasing. They also say guard dogs brought in by a tactical team have bitten them after they have been stripped to their underwear 

In the complaint, one prisoner, Robert Silva-Prentice, alleges that more than 10 tactical officers used stun guns to beat him and his cellmate in an unprovoked attack, after which they were denied calls to their attorneys and access to their legal paperwork. He was eventually allowed to see his attorney, Kathryn Karczewska Ohren, on January 29. 

Victoria Kelleher, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which is representing Silva-Prentice and two other three inmates in the suit, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said she was prevented from going inside the prison after the lockdown. 

“We’re still getting reports of lawyers having restricted visits,” said Kelleher on Monday.  

Several lawmakers, including Acton Sen. Jamie Eldridge, have called for an independent investigation of what happened at the prison facility. “We need a clear message from Gov. Charlie Baker on how we’re dealing with prisoners right now. We haven’t seen that since the 2018 criminal justice bill,” said Eldridge.  

Eldridge and several other lawmakers have made unannounced visits to Souza-Baranowski over the past two weeks.  

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Bradley Jones visited the facility on February 7 based on concerns over officer safety, his office said in a joint press release with the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, which represents guards at Souza.  

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“The tour today was a way to express our support for the correctional officers who each and every day have one of the toughest jobs in the Commonwealth,” said Jones.  

An investigation into the attack on the correctional officers was referred to the Worcester County district attorney’s office. No charges have been filed.