The lawsuit comes amid heightened scrutiny of the care provided to people in the Department of Correction’s custody. It also raises continuing questions about the propriety of holding men who are civilly committed because they pose a danger to themselves or others due to substance use – and who are not incarcerated for committing any crime – in a facility run by the state Department of Correction rather than by public health officials.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington and Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton would end the practice for men as well. Men were not included in the initial lawsuit, so they were also left out of the legislation that Baker signed. Today, civilly committed men are split between facilities run by the Department of Public Health, the Department of Correction and, in western Massachusetts, the Hampden County sheriff’s office.
Both Friedman and Balser said they were unaware of specific concerns about medical care at MASAC, but their bills attempt to address the larger issue of whether addiction should be treated as a disease or as a crime. Friedman called it “the criminalization of an illness” to confine people for substance-use treatment in a jail setting.