Ex-Souza prisoner says he was abused

Lawmakers, lawyers ask for independent probe of facility

A FORMER PRISONER at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center who was released on February 14 said on Wednesday that he was subjected to abuse by tactical forces in the wake of a January attack on a group of guards in a separate unit of the Shirley facility.

Jason Schultz, who was incarcerated for assault, said he was handcuffed behind his back, eye-gouged, kicked in the ribs, and tased during the lockdown that occurred as a result of at least 16 inmates attacking four correctional officers in another unit. He said he was denied medical care for his injuries.

Schultz previously sued the Department of Correction over an earlier forced removal from his cell. That case ended in 2018 with one excessive force claim being dismissed and a second claim that his medical needs were ignored during the removal being granted.

Schultz, along with other former inmates, attorneys for inmates, and some lawmakers gathered for a briefing on the Souza situation at the State House on Wednesday but then decided to personally deliver a letter asking Gov. Charlie Baker, members of his administration, and US Attorney Andrew Lelling to investigate conditions at the state’s maximum-security prison. The Department of Correction and State Police are currently investigating the incident.

Jason Schultz, left, a former prisoner at Souza-Baranowski, alleges he was tased and beaten in the wake of a facility-wide lockdown. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

Members of the group of inmates, attorneys, and lawmakers said assaults on inmates have been widespread. Schultz put the number at 67, but Lizz Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Service, estimated there have been more than 125. She said there have been 80 more complaints about inhumane conditions.

“It’s unprecedented,” Matos said, adding that there were 44 total assaults last year.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, who hosted the event with Rep. Chynah Tyler of Boston, raised concerns about overuse of solitary confinement, something that the state’s 2018 criminal justice reform bill expressly prohibits. Eldridge said the Department of Correction has “found ways through emergency regulations to avoid implementing the law.”

Acton Sen. Jamie Eldridge says that solitary confinement is being overused at Souza-Baranowski. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt

Eldridge has made multiple visits to Souza since the end of the lockdown, meeting with over a dozen prisoners, including some he says had dog bites and obvious markings on their bodies and bruises.

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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.

Baker’s office forwarded a statement from Department of Correction spokesman Jason Dobson that access to legal documents, mail, and phone service were all restored after a search of the facility. The statement said inmates have made all scheduled court appearances.

Schultz is not part of a lawsuit recently lodged by current inmates at Souza against the state about guard abuse and access to attorneys, which passed a major legal hurdle last Friday in Superior Court.