May 11, 2023

Warren, McGovern, Pressley Seek Answers from Massachusetts Department of Correction on Reports Alleging Lack of Accommodations for Incarcerated Individuals with Hearing Disabilities

“We are alarmed by the allegations that DOC has denied incarcerated individuals access to critical accommodations needed to effectively communicate, and that the agency may have done so in violation of a federal settlement agreement. We urge DOC to act in accordance with its responsibility to provide custody and care to individuals under its supervision.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), alongside Representatives Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Carol Mici, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) expressing concern about numerous reports that individuals incarcerated at DOC facilities across Massachusetts are being denied access to accommodations for hearing disabilities, allegedly in violation of a federal settlement agreement. In the letter, the lawmakers are requesting additional information in order to assess the allegations. 

“Our constituents report that DOC recently limited access to specialized telephones used by deaf and hard-of hearing individuals. Detained individuals are now seeking relief in federal court, alleging that DOC has violated an existing federal settlement agreement and has denied their ability to communicate with loved ones,” wrote the lawmakers. 

DOC is legally obligated to provide accommodations to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. In 2015, several incarcerated individuals with hearing disabilities filed a class action lawsuit against DOC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for failing to provide hearing-related assistance and accommodations. The court approved a settlement agreement requiring DOC to identify and provide vital accommodations to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals detained in DOC facilities. Notably, the agreement requires DOC to provide certain individuals with access to captioned telephones (or “CapTels”), telephones that transcribe speech and display text on a built-in screen.

“Constituents have alerted us that DOC recently revoked access to CapTel for a significant number of incarcerated individuals. Plaintiffs’ counsel in the federal lawsuit notified DOC on March 6 that its decision to deny CapTel access on the basis of new disability assessments may have violated the settlement agreement,” continued the lawmakers.

In order to assess the allegations against DOC, and to understand whether DOC’s actions violate the rights of incarcerated individuals under federal law, the lawmakers are requesting answers to their questions by no later than May 31, 2023.