By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts state prisons are failing to provide proper care to prisoners with serious mental health issues, putting inmates’ lives at risk and violating their constitutional rights, federal authorities said Tuesday.

An investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office found troubling conditions within Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities that authorities say has resulted in prisoners dying or seriously injuring themselves while on mental health watch.

“Our investigation revealed that MDOC fails to provide adequate mental health treatment to prisoners experiencing a mental health crisis and instead exposes them to conditions that harm them or place them at serious risk of harm,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the DOJ’s civil rights division said in an emailed statement. “Remedying these deficiencies promptly will ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of these vulnerable prisoners and promote public safety,” he said.

An email seeking comment was sent to a Massachusetts Department of Correction spokesperson.

The Justice Department said the Massachusetts Department of Correction is not properly supervising inmates in mental health crisis, not providing adequate mental health care and keeping inmates under prolonged mental health in restrictive housing conditions.

“Our investigation found cause to conclude that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections fails to properly supervise and accommodate prisoners suffering from serious mental health issues,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said. “The conditions at MDOC facilities show how systemic deficiencies in prison facilities can compound each other and amount to constitutional violations,” he said.

Federal authorities allege the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. In a letter sent to the governor, federal officials said they are hoping to resolve the matter “amicably” but said the Department of Justice may bring a lawsuit in 49 days to force the state to fix the problems.

Lelling said the Massachusetts Department of Correction has cooperated with its investigation, which involved tours of prisons, interviews with hundreds of prisoners and the review of records such as incident reports.

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