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Massachusetts Highest Court Upholds Damages Awards to State Prisoners Unlawfully Transferred to Federal Prisons

In 1989, the Supreme Judicial Council of Massachusetts affirmed the award of damages to eight state prisoners who were unlawfully transferred to federal out-of-state institutions without the procedural protections afforded to them under departmental regulations.

The prisoners were held outside Massachusetts for periods ranging from 22 to 41 months. They lost family visits, personal property, and the opportunity to earn “good time” credit which would have hastened their release. Additionally, each prisoner was subjected to some segregation or ‘hard time’ as a result of the transfer.

The judge assessed damages on the basis of a simple formula, $100 for each day of ‘hard time’ attributable to the transfer and not the prisoner’s own conduct; $100 for each lost visit; and $10 for each day out of Massachusetts (other than days spent in ‘hard time’). The awards ranged from $14,890 to $41,180 and averaged about $24,000 per prisoner.

On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Council rejected the Commonwealth’s arguments that 1) the award of damages both for being sent out of state and for lost visits was impermissibly duplicative; 2) the Commonwealth was not liable for the decisions of federal authorities to place prisoners in segregation; and 3) the damages awards were excessive. See: Blake v. Commissioner of Correction, 532 N.E. 2d 671 (Mass. 1989).

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Related legal case

Blake v. Commissioner of Correction