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Massachusetts bill would move involuntary drug treatment from jails to community

Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
File photo
MassLive / masslive.com
Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

Addiction specialists and lawmakers testified Monday on a Massachusetts bill that would end many cases of involuntary drug treatment in jail.

Massachusetts is the only state where people civilly committed to drug treatment — through a process called Section 35 — often get that treatment in jail.

The state ended the practice for women in 2016, but not for men.

State Representative Ruth Balser is co-sponsoring legislation that would move involuntary treatment to community-based centers, unless someone is charged with a crime.

"People who have been civilly committed, who have not committed any crime, they're suffering from an illness," Balser said. "I don't think they should be sent to jail no matter how much we spruce up the jail. It's still a jail."

Addiction specialists and civil rights advocates testified that locking someone up for drug treatment can be stigmatizing and traumatic.

Others, including the Suffolk County sheriff, said treatment in jail can be effective and, given the need, better than nothing. The Hampden County Correctional Facility has received praise for its on-site drug treamtent program.

But supporters of the bill said there would be more regular treatment centers if jails were no longer the default location, and if the governor's office invested in them. 

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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