New law offers women drug treatment instead of prison
The disgraceful practice of sending women who have been civilly committed for substance abuse disorders to the state prison in Framingham rather than a treatment facility is finally coming to an end.
“I’m sorry it took so long to make this happen,” said Gov. Charlie Baker at the State House bill signing on Monday.
Civil commitments typically last 90 days. They are used when a judge rules a person with a substance abuse disorder is a danger to themselves or others. Men with civil commitments are sent to Bridgewater State Hospital, while women until now have been sent to MCI-Framingham, the state’s only correctional facility for women.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said six women are currently civilly committed at MCI-Framingham. They will be transferred to new addiction treatment beds at the Taunton and Shattuck state hospitals. Overall, the state is spending $5.8 million to open 60 new addiction treatment beds for women at the two hospitals.
Officials attending the bill-signing ceremony on Monday said the shift on civil commitments finally came about in large part because of a shift in attitudes in the wake of the opioid crisis. “As soon as it became a widespread situation affecting communities all across the Commonwealth, people from all economic backgrounds, really a very diverse group of people, it suddenly changed from a crime to a disease,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. “It’s a societal attitude that has changed based, I think, in part on socioeconomic class and race lines.”
There’s still plenty of work to be done at MCI-Framingham. The prison is overcrowded. It houses state and county offenders as well as women awaiting trials. Approximately two-thirds of the inmates are there for nonviolent offenses, most of them involving drugs. Many of the inmates suffer from mental illness.
“The sad truth is that the state’s prisons are becoming de facto detox centers and mental health facilities of last resort,” wrote Renee Loth in a column last year that focused primarily on MCI-Framingham. “Left unsaid is what a poor match prisons are for that kind of work.”
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