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Social workers can’t provide person-centered care in state’s dehumanizing prison setting

A corrections officer opens the door to a cellblock wing at MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole in this 2007 file photo.
A corrections officer opens the door to a cellblock wing at MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole in this 2007 file photo.Tlumacki, John Globe Staff

Re “Mass. prisoners not getting proper mental health care, US finds” (Page A1, Nov. 18): Social workers working in and alongside the carceral system witness the constitutional violations described in this report and, unfortunately, much more. This report of the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division finds that the conditions of mental health watches within the state Department of Correction are equivalent to solitary confinement; this is not treatment, and it has been condemned by our organization.

As social workers, the ethics of our profession mandate that we advocate against such social injustices, and our state organization has long advocated for better conditions for people incarcerated in the Department of Correction. The profession’s ethics also mandate that we serve oppressed populations, including people who are incarcerated. However, the conditions described in the recent report make providing the highest-quality services impossible. Our members who work in these institutions face an uphill battle to provide person-centered care within a dehumanizing environment.


As a result of this long-awaited legal documentation openly describing the cruelty and injustices experienced by people in Department of Correction custody, we demand that the state protect the constitutional rights of incarcerated people by changing the conditions identified in this report.

We also acknowledge that such change would be only a small step toward providing truly humanizing, patient-centered care. However, at the minimum, our community members deserve to have their basic rights upheld.

Rebekah Gewirtz

Executive director

Deborah Goldfarb

Cochair, criminal justice committee

Massachusetts chapter

National Association of Social Workers