At 3.00 PM today, barely an hour ago, Governor baker signed legislation ending the practice of committing drug-addicted women to Framingham prison. Henceforth, addicted women in the justice system will be committed to hospitals.
It took 30 years of delay for this reform to happen.
This act may seem a small victory in the battle to make addiction a health care issuer rather than a crime, but for the women affected it’s not small at all. Framingham is the state’s only prison for women, and it has long suffered a terrible reputation for mismanagement and worse. It is no place for women with serious — life threatening — health problems. Framingham prison may not be a place even for female criminals (read reporter Scott O’Connell’s MetroWest story from 2012 : http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20120419/news/304199949 ) and that’s a subject to be taken up soon, I hope; but for drug-addicted, non violent women, it’s a venue utterly inappropriate. Framingham, like all prisons, is governed b y fear, intimidation, and guards who control everything about you. In prison you often have no rights at all, not even basic human rights. Whatever the justification for imposing such terror on criminals prisoners, there can be none for subjecting addicted women to it.
Henceforth, addicted women facing civil commitment will no longer face being housed in prison.
The legislation that Governor Baker signed — read its text here : http://www.malegislature.gov/Document/Bill/189/House/H3956.pdf — accompanies the creation of 248 new bed spaces for addicts needing treatment, beds located all over the state, in hospitals, mental hospitals, and community clinics, with Baker’s assurance of many more such beds to come.
Said Baker in his press release, “With the support of the legislature and Attorney General, our administration is proud to have delivered on a promise that took more than 30 years to fulfill. Now, women with substance abuse disorder who are civilly committed will not be sent to MCI Framingham and will have the opportunity to get treatment instead of jail time.”
Speaker DeLeo added these words : “By ending the practice of sending civilly committed women to MCI-Framingham we are taking one more step to helping residents – our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives – recover. I’m proud of the landmark substance addiction legislation we have passed and the unprecedented funding increases for treatment, and I pledge unwavering commitment to fighting this devastating epidemic.”
Senate President Stan Rosenberg said much the same : “The bill ends the practice of treating women with substance abuse issues like criminals. We need to…provide access to treatment in an appropriate setting so these women have an opportunity to get on a path to recovery.”
Attorney General Maura Healey joined the Governor’s signing ceremony and offered her own view : “This new law will end the practice of sending women struggling with addiction to prison without access to the treatment services they need. As we continue to battle this epidemic, it’s critical we get people real help that will give them a fighting chance at a better life.”
Action by the legislature came swiftly. There continues to be controversy about Governor baker’s more interventionist tools for fighting addiction — the 72 hour forced commitment has not found favor with many in the medical establishment, and Baker’s 72-houir pain pill, limitation was eased by the legislature to a one-week limit — but most of Baker’s reforms have taken hold unanimously or almost so. I am hoping that Baker will continue to pressure the legislature — and the medical community — to be ever bolder, ever more ready to intervene, to save the lives of the many thousands of our state’s young people at risk of grave harm, even death.
Even as I write, new strains of street heroin, mhttp://www.malegislature.gov/Document/Bill/189/House/H3956.pdfotent every week, grasp at the cravings of those we must tlry to save.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere