Court sides with Indian inmates over closure of sweat lodge

Inmates at a powwow at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington. Photo from Huy / Facebook

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections illegally shut down a sweat lodge, the state's highest court ruled on Monday.

More than a decade ago, the state reached a settlement that ensured Indian inmates could practice their religion. But the sweat lodge at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley was abruptly shut down after just six months due to alleged health risks.

The closure violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, as well as the settlement, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled. In a unanimous decision, Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly said the state failed to provide "credible evidence' that explained why the sweat lodge posed health problems at the facility in question.

"n reaching this result, we do not determine that the risk does not exist," Duffy wrote. "We conclude only that the evidence here was lacking and thus falls short of what RLUIPA requires."

The court heard the case on October 5. The Native American Rights Fund and Huy, an organization that provides economic, educational, rehabilitative and religious support for Indian inmates, submitted a brief in support of the plaintiffs.

Get the Story:
State’s high court rules against prison’s ‘sweat lodge’ closure (The Boston Globe 11/24)

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decision:
Trapp v. Roden (November 23, 2015)

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