In April 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with Fick & Marx LLP, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of people incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Devens, Massachusetts who are at severe risk of illness or death from COVID-19 due to advanced age or preexisting medical conditions, as well as those who are appropriate candidates for an early transfer to home confinement.

The suit alleges that officials at FMC Devens and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have demonstrated deliberate indifference to the risk of rampant infection and death that COVID-19 poses to the uniquely vulnerable populations in this facility—a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

FMC Devens is a former military camp in which over 800 people died during the 1918 influenza outbreak. 100 years later, FMC Devens now comprises a BOP medical center and satellite camp where officials are poised to repeat the mistakes of the past by failing to ensure compliance with CDC guidelines for social distancing, despite a high concentration of elderly and medically compromised inmates.

The three named petitioners include: a 49-year-old man with a history of hypertension and chest pain, who is serving a nine-month sentence and has been told he will be released to a halfway house in late May 2020; a 51-year-old man who underwent a liver transplant and has a compromised immune system; and a 59-year-old man who requires dialysis, is a diabetic and has had a triple bypass. The complaint notes that all three petitioners are appropriate candidates for compassionate release and/or immediate transfer to home confinement.

The suit asks a federal judge to immediately release a sufficient number of incarcerated men who are medically vulnerable and appropriate candidates for compassionate release or home confinement to ensure that the remaining incarcerated people and staff can comply with CDC guidelines for physical distancing. It also asks that the court appoint a medical expert to investigate the conditions at FMC Devens and monitor compliance.

The class action lawsuit builds on the ACLU’s litigation efforts to save the most vulnerable from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic’s start, the ACLU of Massachusetts has filed several legal actions related to detention centers, prisons, and jails, and has urged government officials to ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all people.

At the moment, we are gathering information about class members to help inform our discussions with the Court & the government. We put together an online questionnaire to do so, which you can find & fill out here

Please keep in mind that while we are working to help everyone in the class of prisoners at FMC Devens, our communications do not constitute an agreement to form an individual attorney-client relationship with you or your loved one, nor is it an agreement to work for their individual release.


Matthew Segal, Jessie Rossman (ACLU of Massachusetts); William Fick, Daniel Marx (Fick & Marx LLP)

Date filed

April 15, 2020