Suit alleges bias in civil commitments for addiction

The Boston Globe
March 14th, 2019
By Felice J. Freyer

Ten men who have been ordered into treatment for addiction filed suit Thursday against several state agencies, alleging that they are unlawfully being held in a prison instead of a treatment facility.

The plaintiffs are among the roughly 3,000 men each year who have not been charged with a crime but are civilly committed for addiction treatment in Massachusetts. The majority of these men go to a prison in Plymouth, where they are surrounded by razor wire and monitored by correctional officials.

According to the suit, filed as a class action, the men wear prison clothes with badges labeling them “inmates,” face routine insults and humiliation from correctional officers, contend with filthy conditions and inadequate food, are subjected to strip searches, and even endure days of solitary confinement. Amid all this, the suit says, they receive “minimal” help with their addiction, with about five times more correctional officers than counselors on staff.

“Many, if not most, emerge from prison traumatized by the experience and even more vulnerable to relapse and overdose,” according to the suit, which was filed in Suffolk Superior Court by the advocacy group Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts.

“In a civilized society, no one should be sent to prison for a disease,” said James R. Pingeon, the group’s litigation director. About a third of the men have alcoholism and the rest suffer from opioid or other substance use disorders.

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