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Massachusetts Jail Subject to Department of Public Health Inspections and Regulations

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has held that the Department of Public Health has authority to implement regulations on isolation unit conditions, and the Attorney General can file a civil action to require a sheriff to comply with those regulations in a county jail.

This action began as a civil action brought by the Attorney General, seeking to require the Worcester County Sheriff to install in his jail’s isolation cells a toilet, sink, and bed. The Sheriff countersued, alleging the Department of Public Health and Attorney General had no jurisdiction over the holding cells.

The Superior Court held a non-jury trial and entered relief for the Sheriff. The Attorney General appealed.

The Supreme Court held all prisons and jails are subject to inspection by the Department of Public Health, statutes authorizing isolation cells do not exclude them from said inspections and general rules, and indestructible toilet and sink units exist for sanitary purposes and cannot be used by a prisoner to injure himself or others.

As such, the Superior Court’s order was reversed. See: Attorney General v. Sheriff of Worcester County, 413 N.E. 2d 722, 38 Mass. 57 (S.J. Ct. Mass. 1980).

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Related legal case

Attorney General v. Sheriff of Worcester County