On January 5, 1989, five prisoners at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction ("the Jail") filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the County of Worcester, the County Sheriff, and the Massachusetts Departments of Correction and Public Health. The plaintiffs, represented by Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services and private counsel, brought their suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the conditions at the Jail violated their rights under the Constitution of the United States and the laws of Massachusetts. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
On May 11, 1989, the District Court certified the case as a class action, appointing plaintiffs as representatives of a class of all present and future persons housed at the Jail and of two subclasses, one of pretrial detainees housed at the Jail and the other of sentenced inmates housed at the jail.
On August 30, 1989, the parties informed the Court that they had reached a settlement, and on October 6, 1989, the Court (Judge Rya W. Zobel) issued an order approving the parties proposed consent decree. The terms of the decree called for a series of population caps, ending in 1990 at 188 pretrial detainees and 290 sentenced inmates, and imposed requirements regarding admission procedure, access to the courts, medical care and treatment, visitation, activities and jobs for prisoners, food services, and linens and bedding. Defendants were required to submit progress reports for the first three years of the decree, and the Court retained jurisdiction to enforce compliance.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the only defendant not to join in the settlement, moved the Court to dismiss it from the action, and on December 28, 1989, the Court (Judge Zobel) granted its motion, finding that plaintiffs had not stated a cause of action against it. Perry v. Fair
, 1989 WL 159600, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16302 (D. Mass. 1989).
The docket indicates that following these developments, the Court appointed a special master, William E. Bernstein, who served from July 12, 1990, to October 5, 1993, overseeing compliance for the Court. It also indicates that the Court issued an order clarifying the consent decree on February 21, 1995, and granted plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees on September 11, 1995, awarding them $106,917.40 in fees and $12,776.29 in other expenses. The Court also terminated a motion to amend the decree and a motion to compel compliance on September 30, 1998. (We currently have no further information on the content of these motions.)
There is no activity on the docket for the following eight years; activity resumed when, in 2006, the defendants moved to vacate or terminate the consent decree in light of PLRA. Eventually, the parties came to an agreement on how to amend the consent decree and submitted it to the court on July 3, 2007. The changes include an increase in the population cap to 1251 prisoners due to the building of new facilities with higher capacity, deletion of the requirements regarding admission procedures, access to the courts, medical care and treatment, visitation, food services, and linens and bedding as no longer necessary, and the addition of a clause causing the decree to terminate when additional facilities are constructed at the jail with a rated capacity of 200.
The Court (Judge Zobel) approved the amendment on July 23, 2007, and then on November 8 approved a slightly different version which added details on compliance with the population cap.
We know of no further developments as of the date of this summary.Christopher Schad - 07/19/2012