Foster v. Commissioner of Corrections
Foster v. Commissioner of Corrections (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, June 2, 2020): Massachusetts’ highest court denied a request that the Department of Corrections (DOC) take immediate steps to depopulate detention centers while the case proceeds to trial. Plaintiffs are inmates serving sentences or are civilly committed for drug treatment who challenge the conditions of their detention as posing an unreasonable risk for COVID-19 transmission. They claim violations of Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as substantive due process rights. The court held that it was unlikely the plaintiffs would succeed on either claim. As to the Eighth Amendment claim, prison officials have taken significant steps to reduce harm and protect inmates by changing visitation policies, amending inmate schedules, and providing personal protective equipment to staff and prisoners. Moving forward, the court determined that lower court judges shall not civilly commit an individual for drug treatment absent a finding that the danger posed by the substance use disorder outweighs risks of potential COVID-19 transmission. Read the full opinion here.