December 2, 2017
The Boston Globe
By Maria Cramer and Felice J. Freyer
In recent years, as the opioid crisis has deepened, the number of people who have turned to the court system for help has skyrocketed. Under a state law known as Section 35, a judge may commit into treatment anyone with an addiction whom family, police, or other law enforcement deem a danger to themselves or others. Some people contest their commitment, but others go without protest, seeing it as their best — even last — hope for recovery.
Massachusetts appears to stand alone in sending some of its civilly committed patients into the care of the penal system. Thirty-three states have laws that allow forced commitment for substance users, but only 14 regularly do so. In 2009, a Department of Correction survey found that no other state sent patients seeking recovery into prison settings.
Maggie Filler, a lawyer with Prisoners’ Legal Services, a nonprofit group that represents people in state prisons and has interviewed patients about the conditions at Plymouth, said the Department of Correction is profoundly ill-equipped to handle patients with chronic addiction.
“This is a fundamental betrayal of the state’s mandate to provide appropriate care when a parent or a loved one says, ‘My son is really at risk,’ ” she said.