In May 2023, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a public records lawsuit against the Office of the State Auditor for wrongfully withholding documents related to prisoner deaths and health care at the houses of correction in two counties.   

In March 2023, the Office of the State Auditor issued a pair of public audit reports concerning deaths and health care of people held by the Plymouth County and Barnstable County sheriffs' departments respectively. Both reports were similarly incomplete, with the Office of the State Auditor removing its audit results on “an issue that includes confidential information.” The ACLU submitted a public records request for the complete reports. The Office of the State Auditor refused to produce the complete reports, instead producing heavily redacted versions that still did not describe the redacted “issue.” 

The internal reports each contain an additional section—which was not included in the public reports—that is entirely redacted. Furthermore, the internal reports also indicate that additional text was removed from other sections of the public report without any way for the public to discern that it was missing. In some instances, the redacted text appears to qualify the report’s overall conclusions, even though the same conclusions were presented to the public without any indication of this qualification.  

As a result of these redacted records, the public can't assess whether the “issue” discovered by the Auditor’s Office presents a risk to prisoner health and safety. The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court, demands the complete audit reports. 


Daniel L. McFadden (ACLU of Massachusetts) & Natalie Panariello (Foley Hoag LLP)