Men at Mass. prison sue state officials over civil commitments
Ten men who say there were involuntarily committed to a Mass. prison instead of a drug and alcohol treatment facility are suing officials
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Ten men who say they were involuntarily committed to a Plymouth prison instead of a drug and alcohol treatment facility are suing several state agencies and officials, claiming their rights were violated.
The men, housed deep within Myles Standish State Forest in a facility called the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, allege widespread mistreatment, "appalling conditions" and inadequate treatment.
The class action lawsuit claims that a civil commitment for addiction treatment to a prison under a law known as Section 35 is a violation of due process, an unlawful disability discrimination and an unlawful discrimination against gender since the state passed a law prohibiting sending civilly committed women to correctional facilities in 2016.
Section 35, considered a tool of last resort, allows family members, police officers and doctors to ask a judge to force someone into substance abuse treatment for up to 90 days, usually against their will. The majority of civilly committed men in Massachusetts end up at the low-security prison in Plymouth. The facility, run by the state Department of Correction, houses about 200 men being treated for substance use and a small number of prisoners.
The lawsuit blasts the state Department of Public Health for allegedly failing to provide enough inpatient facilities for committed men in Massachusetts. The state reported more than 6,000 forced commitments for drug addiction in both fiscal 2016 and 2017.
The lawsuit claims that men travel to Plymouth shackled and handcuffed in a prison van, strip searched, monitored mainly by corrections officers and given prisoner-like jumpsuits, despite entering treatment involuntarily and not being convicted of a crime.
"(The facility) is dominated and controlled by corrections officers. This creates a pervasively oppressive environment that is punitive, humiliating and detrimental to treatment," the lawsuit reads.
The men, identified only as John Doe and a corresponding number in the lawsuit, say the facility has not helped them recover and in some cases made their problems worse. The lawsuit claims that some men who have served jail time say that treatment at the Plymouth prison is worse.
The lawsuit alleges that the Plymouth prison is dirty and has abusive staff and sub-par treatment.
The plaintiffs say corrections officers at the facility use solitary confinement as punishment and call them names such as "junkie" or "retard." The lawsuit claims that men who come to the facility go through detoxification without much medication to stanch the symptoms of withdrawal, which can include vomiting, cramping, muscle pain and diarrhea. The lawsuit claimed the detox area was "filthy and stinking of the vomit, urine and excrement of patients in the throes of cold-turkey withdrawal," and described the rest of the facility as "generally dirty."
The lawsuit was brought by the Prisoners' Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides legal help for the incarcerated, and filed in Suffolk Superior Court. In a statement Sunday, James Pingeon, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the state should not punish the committed.
"Massachusetts is the only state that uses civil commitment to send people to prison for alcohol or substance use disorders. Other states understand that these are serious medical conditions that cry out for treatment, not punishment," Pingeon said. "Prisons are for criminals. No one should be sent to a prison just because they have a disease."
The Plymouth prison was converted to a treatment center in 2017 after decades as a minimum-security prison camp that served as a prerelease program designed to prepare inmates to re-enter life on the outside.
The lawsuit claims that men committed to the Plymouth facility receive much fewer hours of treatment than those at a Section 35-specialized Brockton facility called the Men's Addiction Treatment Center, run by the Department of Public Health. The lawsuit claims that men there get at least 28 hours of treatment per week compared with 17 hours or less in Plymouth. It describes the difference between the Brockton facility and the Plymouth prison as "night and day."
The lawsuit names as defendants the state Department of Correction and its commissioner, Carol Mici; the state Department of Public Health and its commissioner, Monica Bharel; Thomas Turco, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security; Marylou Sudders, secretary of the state Office of Health and Human Services; and Pamela MacEachern, superintendent of the Plymouth prison.
Spokespeople for the departments of public health and correction said Sunday that they can't comment on pending litigation. Other officials could not be reached for comment.
©2019 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.