Hearing shows setting matters for addiction, mental health care

Hearing shows setting matters for addiction, mental health care

State House News/MassLive
November 9, 2021
By Katie Lannan

BOSTON (SHNS) – Two sets of elected officials on Monday offered different visions on the role of correctional facilities in addiction treatment, an issue that has become part of the public debate over how to respond to the substance use and homelessness crises at Boston’s Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Five years after a state law ended the practice of sending women to prison when they were civilly committed for addiction treatment, bills filed by Rep. Ruth Balser and Sen. Cindy Friedman aim to do the same for men subject to so-called Section 35 civil commitments.

Meanwhile, a Sen. Nick Collins bill lays out a procedure for handling Section 35 petitions when courts are closed, in which a justice could temporarily commit a person facing a “grave likelihood of serious harm,” with a hearing to be held on the next business day. His bill also would establish that “correctional facilities operated by the Suffolk County Sheriff shall be permitted to enter into agreements with approved section 35 facilities to provide public health services at the same level of care.”

Bonnie Tenneriello of Prisoners’ Legal Services said most Section 35 beds for men are run by the Department of Correction and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office, and said that those facilities still feel like jails to the people who reside there.

“It reinforces the perception that they are second-class citizens who deserve no better than jail. This is profoundly countertherapeutic and directly undermines any chance for successful treatment and recovery,” she said.

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