Relapse During Probation Grounds For More Jail Time, MA Court Decides

By Beth Leipholtz 07/19/18

Eleven days after her probation began, Julie Eldred tested positive for the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

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Individuals on probation can face great consequences if they relapse, according to a Massachusetts court. The decision was made Monday, July 16 by the top court in Massachusetts, the New York Times reported. 

The case that this decision stemmed from was one that had been being monitored closely by “prosecutors, drug courts and addiction medicine specialists.”

The case was brought forward by 30-year-old Julie Eldred, who, in 2016, was convicted of larceny for stealing jewelry. She was given a year of probation with up to 30 months in jail if she violated conditions, two of which were to enroll in treatment and stay drug-free.  

According to the Times, Eldred did enroll in an outpatient program, where she began taking Suboxone, a medication which can decrease opioid cravings and curb symptoms of withdrawal. Soon after, Eldred asked her doctor for a stronger dose. 

Then, 11 days after her probation began, she tested positive for fentanyl, the Times notes. Because no inpatient treatment placement could be found and Eldred’s parents were out of town, the judge decided to send Eldred to a medium-security prison for 10 days. There, she did not receive Suboxone and went through withdrawals.

“The judge was faced with either releasing the defendant and risking that she would suffer an overdose and die or holding her in custody until a placement at an inpatient treatment facility became available,” Justice David Lowy wrote in the court’s decision. 

During the case proceedings, the defense made the argument that because substance use disorder is a “chronic, relapsing brain disease,” making it difficult for a person to simply stop using drugs.

The prosecution countered that substance use disorder varies by individual in terms of intensity. They also argued that many people can overcome the disorder and that consequences and rewards, such as jail time or a clear criminal record, can motivate individuals to stop using.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated that Eldred should have brought up the potential issues with her probation conditions earlier in the circumstances, when the argument could have been made in front of a trial judge instead.

Lowy stated that judges have the responsibility of determining probation requirements while keeping the goals of rehabilitation and public safety in mind. He wrote that judges “stand on the front lines of the opioid epidemic” and are “faced with difficult decisions that are especially unpalatable.”

According to Eldred’s lawyer, Lisa Newman-Polk, the court “rubber-stamped the status quo, dysfunctional way in which our criminal justice system treats people suffering from addiction.”

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office agreed with the court’s ruling.  

“We are pleased the Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed a court’s ability to take an individualized approach to probation that encourages recovery and rehabilitation to help probationers avoid further incarceration,” said a spokesperson for Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, according to the Times.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.