House Passes Funding to Move Women Addicts Out of Prison, into Treatment Beds

Included in the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ FY16 supplemental budget, passed on October 28, was $5.8 million toward moving women, civilly committed under Section 35, out of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) in Framingham and into a hospital facility for treatment.

Under Section 35 of the Commonwealth’s General Laws, persons battling substance abuse may be involuntarily committed at the request of a family member, doctor, guardian or police officer if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others. They are ordered by the court to undergo detox and treatment at a licensed facility.

Given the lack of treatment beds, however, women committed under Section 35 are often sent to MCI-Framingham, the only prison for women in the Commonwealth. Men are sent to the prison in Bridgewater but, unlike women at Framingham, receive treatment under medical supervision. Women at Framingham are strip-searched, given prison uniforms and housed with pretrial detainees.

At the very beginning of this year, in January, State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed legislation to move Section 35 patients out of houses of correction and into hospitals. That legislation, House Bill 1790, An Act relative to safe in-patient alcoholism or substance abuse treatment, had its public hearing before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse in September.

“Addicts deemed a danger to themselves or others need counseling and treatment, but the Section 35 law needs to be updated,” said DiZoglio. “That is why this past January, I filed legislation to move addicts committed under Section 35 out of prisons and into hospitals.”

On account of the increase in opiate addiction, Section 35 commitments have been rising dramatically in the Commonwealth. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, there has been a 67 percent increase in Section 35 commitments since 2006.

“When there are no treatment beds at licensed facilities remaining, women committed under this statute have received unsatisfactory treatment while suffering the trauma of imprisonment,” said DiZoglio. “We must provide these women with comprehensive treatment, not jail time.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker also filed legislation to prohibit women from being civilly committed at Framingham.

“I am grateful to Governor Baker for his prioritizing of this issue as his administration addresses the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic and also want to thank House Ways and Means Chairman Brian S. Dempsey for his leadership in ensuring these critical funds were included in the House supplemental budget,” said DiZoglio.