Stan Schapiro: Jail is not the place for people with addictions

  • In this Aug. 5, 2019 photo, bunk beds line the wall of a dormitory-style room at the Hampden County Sheriff's Department's minimum security, residential treatment facility in Springfield. AP

Published: 9/24/2019 8:30:12 PM

I do not doubt Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi’s sincerity when he says he cares deeply for those affected with harmful addictions (“Sheriff rebuts columnist, says jail is committed to treatment,” Sept. 11). However, jails and the correctional system are not the places for treatment of people with addictions.

As a society, we have finally come to understand that incarceration is not the answer to drug use and that using the criminal justice system to fight the “drug war” has been a costly and damaging failure. We have the opportunity to close prisons, reduce beds and divert the enormous and wasteful sums of money we have been spending on jailing and entangling people in the criminal justice system to treatment for addiction, and other supportive services, such as support for housing and employment.

People who are struggling with addictions are fighting a battle more akin to a medical disorder than to criminal behavior. Would we consider jailing people for other medical disorders? What if people with diabetes or heart disease refused to take their medicine? Would we send them to jail for “treatment?”

Why do we continue to stigmatize people with addiction disorders and send them to jail when we should be diverting the funds from jails to treatment centers and making treatment available to all those in need?

Massachusetts is alone among the states in mandating people ordered into treatment under Section 35 to jails. Section 35-mandated individuals spend their treatment time in correctional facilities. Although some may appreciate the help they receive in Sheriff Cocchi’s program, the fact is that we are going backward and increasing the numbers of people in jail.

If it looks like a jail, smells like a jail and feels like a jail, and the people there work for the Department of Corrections, then it is a jail.

Let’s end our addiction to jails and treat the opiate crisis as a public health problem that requires investment in supportive treatment in our communities.

Stan Schapiro



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