racial equity in corrections initiative

Innovations in Anti-Racism to Address the Overdose Crisis in Prisons

PLS recently received a $250,000 grant from RIZE Massachusetts Foundation, Inc. to support our efforts to ensure equitable access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Black and Brown prisoners. The project, entitled “Innovations in Anti-Racism to Address the Overdose Crisis in Prisons,” is the first legal-medical advocacy clinic of its kind and will incorporate a multi-faceted approach to challenge the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ failure to provide prisoners of color (POC) equitable access to Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment.

Although rates of drug use are similar across racial and ethnic lines, Blacks and Latinx are more likely to be incarcerated for drug use and less likely to receive treatment in the community. Despite this being widely known, racially inequitable policies from behind the wall such as the DOC’s treatment of SUD as a criminogenic issue warranting punishment overtreatment and the institution’s prioritization of MAT eligibility based on the prisoners’ disciplinary record, release date, and prior history of community-based treatment- all of which disproportionately impact POC, continue to serve as an additional roadblock to treatment.  The issue is further compounded by a lack of available data tracking substance use and treatment among prisoners of color.

PLS in collaboration with Boston Medical Center (BMC) will incorporate a multi-faceted approach challenging DOC’s failure to provide POC equitable access to SUD/OUD treatment. Our project’s main objectives are to 1) shift DOC’s treatment of SUD/OUD as a criminogenic issue to understanding it as a chronic medical condition; 2) challenge correctional policies that create and/or worsen existing barriers to accessing MAT for POC; 3) provide individual advocacy for POC seeking MAT treatment including preventing discipline and exclusion from programming due to active drug use; and 4) enhance access to community-based treatment for justice involved POC prior to and after incarceration.

Project Team Leaders

Project Director: LaToya Whiteside

LaToya joined PLS as a Staff Attorney in October 2018. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a substance use counselor. Since joining PLS, her work has been focused on forging connections in communities of color and improving the conditions of Black and Brown prisoners. She is a 2020 graduate of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s Racial Justice Institute (RJI). As a result of her work there, she created the Racial Equity in Corrections Initiative at PLS, on which she is the Project Director. She serves on the legislature’s Structural Racism Commission and most recently was appointed by the Attorney General to serve on the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council. She will supervise and work alongside the Program Coordinator hired for this project.

Medical Team, Project Lead: Ricardo Cruz, MD, MPH

Ricardo Cruz, MD, MPH is a core faculty in the BMC IM PCTP residency program. He completed his residency and internship at BUSM as well as earning his MPH, MA, and MD at the university. He will serve as the project lead for the team’s medical-legal advocacy clinic.  He will oversee participating residents and review medical information submitted by residents to support the clinic’s advocacy efforts.

Program Coordinator: TBD


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