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Massachusetts Prison Official's Ordered To Improve Prisoners' Treatment

Massachusetts State corrections officials (appellants) challenged a court order requiring better treatment for prisoners at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) at Walpole claiming that the court exceeded it's statutory authority. The order was affirmed and no separation of powers doctrine violation was found.

CMI protective custody prisoner Stephen Blaney, Jr., filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to effect changes in his treatment in Block 10. He claimed that he was treated as a punitive-placed prisoner. Other prisoners joined the suit which turned into a class action. A Special Master's report was adopted by the court ordering change. After three years of noncompliance the court ordered specific steps in 1977 for exercise, visitation, cell confinement, and socialization practices. The appellants claimed that revenue was a problem and that the order violated the executive decision making process in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the claims had no merit. It was held that the courts can direct public officials to fulfill lawful obligations and, when ignored, a judge can specify steps for compliance. The court further noted that noncompliance could result in contempt. See: Blaney v. Commissioner of Correction, 374 Mass. 337, 372 N.E.2d 770 (1978).

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Related legal case

Blaney v. Commissioner of Correction