In a lawsuit to limit outbreaks of COVID-19 in Massachusetts prisons and jails, the Supreme Judicial Court today issued a modified opinion. The new ruling follows a request for reconsideration from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL).

Among other new orders, the Court urges the executive branch to use its powers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts prisons, and urges district attorneys and courts to work quickly to deal with motions for relief.

Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, released the following statement:

“We are grateful that the Court has taken additional steps to protect the safety of incarcerated people and improve public health. And we agree with the Court that the question is now whether public officials will act to prevent more illness and death among people in custody, correctional staff, and the broader community."

“When we filed this case in March, there were reportedly a handful of infections inside the Department of Correction. Now at least 239 DOC prisoners and 114 DOC staffers and contractors have been infected. Seven DOC prisoners are dead. This is a crisis. Governor Baker must do everything in his power to ensure that prison sentences do not become de facto death sentences as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.”


The ACLU, CPCS, and MACDL filed an emergency petition in late March, asking the Supreme Judicial Court to take immediate action to limit outbreaks of COVID-19 by reducing the number of people who are incarcerated in Massachusetts jails, prisons, and houses of correction. On April 3, the Court issued an order that will help some pretrial detainees seeking release due to the pandemic. The ACLU, CPCS, and MACDL later filed a motion to reconsider, asking for necessary modifications to save more lives.

This lawsuit is one of several ACLU 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 centersprisons, and jails, and has urged Governor Baker to decrease the number of people who are currently incarcerated in Massachusetts.  

For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response recommendations, go to: