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ACLU lawsuit seeks end to primitive “prison detox” policy used on women with addictions in Massachusetts
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says an unconstitutional Massachusetts statute is allowing hundreds of women to be treated like criminals because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, not because they have committed any crime, or even been charged with one.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to end the practice of committing drug- and alcohol-addicted women to the state correctional facility in Framingham. ACLU staff attorney Jessie Rossman told the State House News Service that under a statute known as Section 35, certain authorities and family members can petition a district court to “civilly commit” someone whose drug or alcohol use is considered a danger to themselves or others.
And when the state treatment facilities are full, the “prisoners” are committed to a correctional facility (a prison) where they are expected to detox under the most primitive of conditions. Although this lawsuit is about women, both men and women are subject to the statute. Women are sent to a prison in Framingham, and “sent to medical unit for detox – what Department of Corrections calls detox – which essentially is just you being given a bucket,” Rossman said. Men are sent to a prison in Bridgewater.
“They can get over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Tums, but they are not treated with the kinds of medications commonly used in detox facilities such as methadone, Suboxone or Vivitrol as part of treatment,” Rossman told the News Service. “As Gov. Deval Patrick has acknowledged, we are actually the only state that incarcerates people who are suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol who haven’t been convicted of a crime. And imprisoning people because they have a disease is wrong, and it’s also unconstitutional.”
The ACLU attorney Rossman said the women end up sharing facilities with “pretrial detainees”– women awaiting trial for actual felonies – and that this leaves them “confused and traumatized by the experience.” Rossmore added that they don’t even have the freedoms afforded the inmates. “They do not have access to the library. They do not have access to the chapel. They do not have access to any of the treatments, the drug programming treatment,” Rossman said. Six days a week, the women are granted two and a half hours to spend in “essentially an empty gravel pit they call the kennel” – a barren yard surrounded by a tarp-covered chain-link fence.
“They are issued a prison uniform. They are issued a number, and then they are subject to disciplinary sanctions,” said Rossman. “They are treated like prisoners because they are in prison.”
Rossmore pointed out how “counterproductive” such an experience is to treating addiction. According to Department of Correction numbers, hundreds of women have been civilly committed over the past three years, and although the average confinement is two weeks, the commitment sometimes lasts as long as 90 days.
Heather Nichols, spokeswoman for Gov. Patrick, said the 2015 state budget includes additional funds to “significantly increase the number of treatment beds within the Department of Public Health available for individuals who are civilly committed and others requiring substance abuse treatment.” The administration said there currently are 13 women confined at Framingham under Section 35, and that the proposed budget will accommodate that number.
How would you feel about living in a state where your family members can petition a court to have you sent to prison, like a criminal, because you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol?
Here’s a much better idea, even if you live in Massachusetts. Novus Medical Detox Center helps a lot of people from the Northeast with drug and alcohol problems. Come down to sunny Florida and experience the Novus difference – the most effective and most comfortable medically-supervised treatment program anywhere. Call us any time – we’re always here to help.
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