BOSTON — Inmates with local ties who are being held in solitary confinement at MCI-Cedar Junction, in South Walpole, have filed a class action lawsuit against the state prison system, alleging inhumane treatment during their extended time in isolation.
Boston College Law School Civil Rights Clinic and the law firm of Holland & Knight announced in a press release that they had filed the lawsuit recently against the Department of Correction.
The release states the three lead plaintiffs — Soksoursdey Roeung, Carlos Bastos and Emmitt Perry — have been subjected to a combined total of 23 years of solitary confinement in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit.
The release states DDU prisoners are confined to “parking space-sized” solitary confinement cells 23 hours a day, for five days per week, and 24 hours a day, for two days per week.
According to an article published by the Sun in May 2005, Roeung was sentenced to 3 1/2 to five years in state prison at that time after pleading guilty in Lowell Superior Court to charges that included armed assault to murder and aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Roeung, who was a Lowell resident and had been a member of the former Moonlight Strangers street gang, received the charges that led to his past prison sentence for his part in a “jumping-out” ceremony that left 15-year-old Ricky Le near death in 2003. Roeung was one of 10 gang members who participated in the jumping-out, a ritual in which Le and Paul Som, also 15, were beaten to gain permission to leave the gang.
A Boston Herald article from February 2020 states Bastos was among the 16 inmates of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, in Lancaster, who received indictments from a Worcester County grand jury for a Jan. 10 attack that left four correction officers injured.
The lawsuit filed Friday argues the DOC is violating state law by keeping Roeung, Bastos and other prisoners in the disciplinary unit for up to 10 years.
The Boston College Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic and the law firm of Holland & Knight said in the press release that the plaintiffs are living “in a never-ending state of trauma.”
“Prolonged solitary confinement has weakened their social skills, rendering them nervous around others and less prepared for reentry into the community,” the release states. “DOC’s unlawful restrictions on visits and telephone calls have caused the loss of relationships with family and friends — a critical support system — exacerbating the plaintiffs’ depression.”
The release goes on to assert that inadequate nutrition and long-term physical restraint have made the plaintiffs physically weak.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, said in the press release “the inhumane design of the DOC’s Departmental Disciplinary Unit recklessly disregards a prisoner’s physical and mental health, as well as basic human needs, and underscores why solitary confinement should be ended in Massachusetts prisons.”
“Such prolonged confinement is a systematic failure that must be addressed by the DOC, and I hope the courts can provide some relief,” Eldridge added.
Under the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act, state prisoners are limited to six-month stints in solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes. Inmates can only be detained in the unit longer than six months if it is determined they pose an unacceptable safety risk.
Jason Dobson, a spokesperson for the DOC, declined to comment on the lawsuit, noting the department does not discuss pending or ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit came just a few months after the DOC announced a two-year plan to phase out operations at Cedar Junction. In April, the department announced the plan, citing falling incarceration rates and enormous maintenance costs to keep the maximum security prison, which is one of the department’s oldest facilities.
The decision to suspend operations at Cedar Junction also aligns with the department’s previous announcement in June 2021, at which point they revealed plans to end all forms of restrictive housing.
The DOC announced in a press release at that time that they had hired a consulting and management firm to complete a study of its existing system. The firm made several improvement recommendations, including the elimination of restrictive housing and to dissolve the DDU.
The department announced in June 2021 plans to implement the recommendations over a three-year period.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis.