Judge sides with inmates on attorney access

Says Souza cannot deny constitutional rights indefinitely

A SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s Department of Correction on Friday, ordering the agency to seek court approval for any actions limiting prisoner access to legal documents and attorneys that extend beyond two days in emergency situations.

The decision, issued by Judge Beverly Cannone, was in response to a lawsuit by three inmates at the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, which went into lockdown for more than two weeks after a large group of prisoners beat up four prison guards on January 10. The prisoners alleged their legal documents were taken away, they were denied access to their attorneys, and guards beat them.

In addition to the 48-hour ruling, Cannone also ordered that any legal documents still being withheld from prisoners be returned within 48 hours and required prison officials to allow inmates more time out of their cells to make attorney phone calls. The issue of guard beatings of inmates was not addressed in the preliminary injunction.

In her decision, the judge acknowledged that the relief she is granting “will interfere with the Defendants’ administration of Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, which could raise public safety concerns. However, the court concludes that the requested preliminary injunction promotes the public interest. Indeed, the court can think of no greater public interest than the protection of individuals’ sacred constitutional rights.”

“DOC leadership is committed to preserving inmates’ constitutional rights, and to balancing   them with our responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for inmates, staff, and visitors” said a spokesperson for the Department of Correction. “The Department is still reviewing the decision and considering appellate options.”
DOC attorney Daryl Glazer have also called the case moot during arguments, saying that prison administrators had already given back legal materials, something the judge did not agree with in her ruling.

Separately, the Worcester County district attorney’s office has filed charges against 16 inmates in connection with the attack on the prison guards.

The lawsuit was filed by three prisoners – Tamik Kirkland, Carl Larocque, and Robert Silva-Prentice – and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. The plantiffs alleged the prisoners’ right to counsel was denied when correctional officers blocked access to their attorneys and confiscated legal paperwork during the prison-wide lockdown.

Silva-Prentice also alleged that more than 10 tactical officers used stun guns to beat him and his roommate in their cell in an unprovoked attack, after which they were denied calls to their attorneys and access to their legal paperwork.

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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.

Rebecca Jacobstein, an attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said the decision was a big victory.

“It strongly acknowledges the importance of the right to counsel. Prison walls don’t negate your constitutional rights,” she said.