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Group Of Civilly Committed Men Sues Massachusetts Alleging Gender Discrimination In ‘Section 35’ Law

The Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth houses men for court-mandated addiction treatment. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

The Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth houses men for court-mandated addiction treatment. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

A group of men is suing the state of Massachusetts over the law, known as “Section 35,” that allowed a judge to involuntarily commit each of them to addiction treatment.

The lawsuit filed by 10 men civilly committed to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC), a minimum security prison in Plymouth, alleges that because the state no longer allows women to be involuntarily committed to prisons for addiction treatment, it should not do so for men, either. MASAC is overseen by the state Department of Correction.

The plaintiffs allege there is scant addiction treatment at MASAC, but widespread mistreatment. They say they are treated like inmates even though they haven’t committed any crimes.

Under Section 35, officers, medical professionals or household or family members can petition the courts to civilly commit a person to drug or alcohol treatment. If a judge agrees the person’s substance use poses a danger to either themselves or others, they can be sent to treatment against their will.

Supporters of the law say a locked-down facility is often needed for people in the throes of addiction. Many of those who involuntarily commit loved ones to treatment say it was a step they had to take to try to keep their loved one alive.

The Plymouth prison, which holds more than 200 beds, opened in 2017. It is the largest of the three state-run facilities that accept male patients committed under Section 35.

Visit WBUR for the full story. 

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