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Massachusetts Jail Releases Prisoners to Meet Court-Ordered Population Levels

A modified consent decree order entered by a Massachusetts federal district court has resulted in the release of at least 100 prisoners from the Worcester County House of Correction (WCHC).

The order came in a class action lawsuit filed by WCHC prisoners in 1989 that complained of overcrowding and other unconstitutional conditions of confinement. The court?s July 23, 2007 order and a revised Nov. 8, 2007 order modified the original consent decree by increasing the jail?s permissible population level due to additions that had expanded bed capacity; however, the WCHC remained severely overcrowded.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the WCHC has a rated capacity of 822 prisoners. ?The jail is at 190 percent capacity and a public safety crisis is upon us,? said WCHC Deputy Superintendent Jeffery R. Turco.

A requirement for the WCHC to meet a 1,451 prisoner population cap by October 1, 2007 resulted in the early release of approximately 100 prisoners who were either awaiting trial or had completed 50 percent of their sentences. The releasees were either set free on personal recognizance or equipped with devices for electronic, GPS, or radio frequency monitoring by the sheriff?s office or probation department.

Under the modified consent decree, pretrial detainees who are released ?... shall be eligible for jail credits as if housed in the County Jail.?
Defendants charged with indecent assault and battery, rape, armed assault, trafficking heroin or cocaine, or several other categories of charges were ineligible for early release.

The court order required the WCHC?s population to be further reduced to 1,351 prisoners by November 1, 2007 and 1,251 by November 11.

Although this was a consent decree agreed to by the parties, that did not inhibit political ?tough on crime? posturing by Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. ?The district attorney?s office is opposed to the release of any prisoner serving a sentence or awaiting a trial at the Worcester County House of Correction. We will seek judicial action to prevent any additional prisoners from being released,? Early said.

Since 2005, the WCHC had been housing prisoners in an infirmary and gym to accommodate the overcrowded conditions. The consent decree provides for the court?s oversight to be terminated when the jail constructs bed space for 200 more prisoners.

?It?s a giant step forward for people who have been living in unsafe and inhuman circumstances for months, if not years,? said Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. See: Perry v. Fair, USDC D. Mass., Case No. 89-cv-00031-RWZ.

Additional source: Boston Herald

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Related legal case

Perry v. Fair