Massachusetts law allows for involuntary commitment of people whose substance abuse puts themselves or others at risk. Yet many of those committed end up in prison. Sociology Professor Susan Sered addresses the issue as the Massachusetts ACLU files suit “challenging the constitutionality of sending women committed under [this law] to state prison.”

She also argues that the proposed solution—more substance abuse treatment beds—has the potential to introduce new problems by accelerating the rate of commitments in the blog post “Civil Commitment: If You Build It They Will Come.”

Sered writes of a woman whose prescription painkillers led her to addiction. Eventually she was committed for the purpose of treatment, but she was taken to prison, where no treatment was offered.

“What Melanie’s parents didn’t know is that under Massachusetts law, a person can be committed under Section 35 to prison if there is no space available at a licensed substance abuse treatment facility. Melanie’s parents thought they were doing the right thing. They thought Melanie would receive treatment for her addiction and maybe even for her chronic pain. They were shocked to see her handcuffed and led out of the courtroom. Sick and vomiting, she sat in a holding cell at the courthouse for a full day. And then she was shackled and put on the bus to MCI-Framingham, the medium security women’s prison where she spent the next month.”

Sered writes regularly about “women's health, human rights, mass incarceration, gender equity and other issues of the day” in her blog.

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