There is growing consensus among addiction specialists that substance use disorder is an illness, not a crime — and that treatment should be delivered in a health facility, not a jail. In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill ending the practice of treating civilly committed women in prisons. The women were moved to secure treatment facilities run through the departments of public health and mental health. A bill pending in the Legislature would do the same for men.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, said someone who is ill does not belong in a correctional facility. “Section 35 is not a crime,” Friedman said. “Correctional facilities have very different reasons for existing. They have very different missions. People who are Section 35 are people who are ill, and they don’t belong in prison.”