Worse than jail: Addicts civilly committed say DOC abused them and failed to treat them

July 14, 2017
The Boston Globe
By Maria Cramer

Iraida Hernandez was desperate to find help for her son, a developmentally disabled 26-year-old long addicted to heroin.

Regular treatment centers weren’t enough — he walked out almost as soon as he walked in. Finally, Hernandez told him she wanted him to enter a program that would forbid him from leaving.

He did not resist, and in late May stood beside his mother when she asked a judge to have him held under a law that allows the civil commitment of someone whose addiction to alcohol or drugs poses a serious risk of harm.

It was a decision Hernandez came to regret.

Her son is now one of 11 men — all civilly committed to receive substance abuse treatment — suing the state for placing them at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, where the state’s most dangerous sex offenders are held in custody.

They are calling on a Suffolk Superior Court judge to release them immediately, contending their treatment has been cruel and that correction officials have wrongly insisted on keeping them for the full 90 days allowed by the law, known as Section 35.

They are also receiving little to no treatment, their civil complaint alleges.

“I put my son in a program so he could get better, not so he could be physically abused,” Hernandez said. “It’s a jail. The worst jail there is.”

Despondent and afraid, Hernandez’s son cut a vein in his arm, according to a civil complaint. Correction officers allegedly doused him with pepper spray to stop him, had him stitched up at an outside hospital, then put him in isolation for several days.

The men’s detention at the Bridgewater treatment center has been “traumatizing,” said Bonita Tenneriello, a lawyer at Prisoners’ Legal Services, which filed the complaint on the men’s behalf on July 7.

“It’s humiliating,” she said. “It’s stigmatizing.”

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