BOSTON – On September 26, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) testified before the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery on legislation she filed that would prohibit the use of correctional facilities for men who have been civilly committed under Section 35.
Under Section 35 of Chapter 123 of the Massachusetts General Laws, a judge may involuntarily commit someone to a public health facility or a correctional facility for alcohol or drug treatment. Massachusetts is the only state in the country that allows judges to send civilly committed individuals with an alcohol addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) to prison instead of an appropriate health care facility.
As such, Friedman’s bill, S.1145, would require that all “Section 35” involuntary civil commitment beds for substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol addiction, for women and men, be in facilities approved by the Department of Public Health (DPH) or the Department of Mental Health (DMH), rather than in correctional facilities.
“Individuals struggling with substance use disorder are not criminals – they are suffering from a disease that must be treated, not punished,” said Friedman. “A jail cell is no place for someone trying to recover from and manage their illness. The passage of this bill is a moral, necessary and commonsense step in the right direction toward ending the criminalization of substance use disorder.”
Many individuals who have spent time in a correctional facility for a “Section 35” civil commitment have experienced harsh living conditions, profound trauma, and extreme difficulty trying to manage the recovery process. The state already prohibits the use of such facilities for women who are civilly committed under Section 35, and Friedman argues that the state should do the same for men.
In concluding her testimony, Friedman urged the Committee to report the bill out favorably.
To track the progress of the bill, visit https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S1145.