On July 18, the Department of Correction agreed to transfer 14 men out of the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, the medium-security DOC facility that holds prisoners who are or may be civilly committed as sexually dangerous persons. The 14 men were not serving sentences for sex offenses and indeed were not convicted of any crimes whatsoever; they had been temporarily committed for drug and alcohol abuse treatment. This transfer comes as the result of a civil complaint filed against the Commonwealth by Prisoners’ Legal Services. The complaint, filed on behalf of 11 of these civilly committed men, alleged that they suffered abuse at MTC and received inadequate addiction treatment. All 14 men at MTC will be returned to the minimum-security prison in Plymouth where they were previously held. As part of the agreement, the DOC will end its practice of sending men who have been civilly committed for substance abuse treatment to MTC.
Days before the agreement was reached, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Anthony Campo criticized the placement of men with substance abuse disorders in the same institution as criminally convicted and civilly committed sex offenders. “I don’t know why someone who is committed for the treatment of alcohol and drugs should be subjected to the trappings of prison life… I think the best thing is to get them to a therapeutic environment that is the most appropriate,” Judge Campo said during a July 14 hearing. The men in question were originally sent to the minimum-security Plymouth facility under a law called Section 35, which states that individuals whose substance use disorders pose a risk of serious harm may be involuntarily civilly committed for up to 90 days.
In its complaint, Prisoners’ Legal Services reported that the conditions at MTC were so poor that three men attempted suicide. One man cut a vein in his arm, to which correctional officers allegedly responded by pepper spraying him and placing him in isolation after he received stitches. The men also claimed that some MTC residents, who prepared the facility’s meals, put staples and other inedible objects in their food. The individuals with substance abuse disorders, several of whom have been sexually abused in the past, reported being targeted by sex offenders for verbal harassment, including threats to rape their family members. The complaint states that men who protested these conditions or harmed themselves were strip searched in front of sex offenders before being placed into the “Minimum Privilege Unit,” where they were held in their cells for 23 hours a day.
The DOC disputed some of these claims, stating that the men committed for substance abuse treatment were housed separately from other MTC prisoners. As for the allegations of inadequate addiction treatment, the DOC argued that the men received both group therapy and treatment from a social worker. State officials reported that the men were originally moved from Plymouth to Bridgewater as a result of disruptive and, in some cases, violent, behavior.
Prisoners’ Legal Services is pushing to have all men who have been civilly committed under Section 35 transferred out of any prison facilities to Department of Public Health-operated treatment centers and hospitals. The Plymouth facility to which the 14 men will be returned currently houses nearly 250 men civilly committed for substance use treatment, but it is still a prison operated by the DOC. Per the agreement, the men are expected to be transferred by July 27.
For further details, see the Boston Globe’s reporting on this story: