Former Prison Camp Now Houses Men Struggling With Addiction

By Britni de la Cretaz 06/08/17

The former prison camp now houses men who have been civilly committed under state law.

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Two men talking to a counselor.

A minimum security prison camp in Southeastern Massachusetts has been turned into a facility for people in need of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.

On May 1, the former MCI-Plymouth Restoration Camp #1 re-opened as the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, where men civilly committed under the state’s Section 35 law are housed, The Enterprise reports.

The facility can hold approximately 190 patients who stay in two-bed rooms and are generally free to move around the camp. And while there were hardly any escapes in its previous iteration, there have been numerous incidents where patients have tried leaving the facility—that’s because Section 35 allows family members, police, and doctors to plead with a judge to force someone to get treatment for their substance use.

“They’re not necessarily ready for treatment or they have not acknowledged entirely that they have a problem,” Sarah Cloud, director of social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Plymouth, told The Enterprise. “It can be very difficult for them to have this placed upon them, even though it's well intended, it’s for their safety and intended to interrupt their cycle long enough to make a difference.”

The result of this has been multiple escape attempts and police activity in the area around the facility in the month since it opened.

The number of people who are “sectioned” has increased in recent years, thanks to the opioid crisis—the former facility at Bridgewater State Prison couldn’t handle the demand.

According to a 2016 report by WBUR, court data show that the annual number of Section 35 commitments has gone up by 40% over the past five years—the Massachusetts Department of Correction reports that there have been 8,023 filings for adults under Section 35 for the first three quarters of the 2017 fiscal year; there were 9,915 for all of 2016.

However, some of the people who end up being committed under Section 35 are the result of a lack of treatment beds in the state. Under the current system, some drug users are forced to “section themselves,” or have themselves committed, in order to attempt to get addiction treatment.

Advocates have for years questioned the ethics of civilly committing people to treatment against their will. In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts called for the end of imprisoning people struggling with addiction. 

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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