A Suffolk Superior Court judge Friday said he was troubled that state officials had placed men civilly committed for drug treatment in a facility for sex offenders and called on the officials to find a quick alternative.
“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,” Judge Anthony M. Campo said during a nearly two-hour hearing in a civil courtroom. “I want to do the right thing. I want to get these people the proper treatment. I think the best thing is to get them to a therapeutic environment that is the most appropriate.”
Eleven men recently sued the state Department of Correction and other state agencies for placing them at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, a facility for sex offenders who are serving criminal sentences or have finished their sentences but remain committed because they have been deemed too dangerous for release.
In their complaint, filed by lawyers for Prisoners’ Legal Services, the men alleged they had not received treatment at the facility and had been mistreated. They said that they were harassed by sex offenders who put staples in their food and yelled obscenities at them.
Three men were so distraught they tried to kill themselves, their lawyers said. Many were placed in an isolation unit, next to cells with sex offenders, according to the complaint.
They called on Campo to have them released immediately and placed at a facility dedicated to drug treatment.
Campo said he did not have enough evidence to determine whether the men are receiving the level of treatment required by the state. He called on officials to put together a plan that would address his concerns and present it to him Tuesday.
James Pingeon, a lawyer for the men, said he was pleased by Campo’s decision. “He understood that this is a situation that on a basic human level is disturbing,” he said. “It’s placing people who desperately need treatment in a very countertherapeutic environment.”
Christopher Fallon, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said the state has taken steps to improve treatment.
“The Department of Correction takes its responsibility to treat civilly committed individuals suffering from alcohol and substance use disorders seriously and looks forward to presenting information to resolve the Court’s concerns,” he said.
Philip W. Silva, a lawyer representing the state agencies, told Campo the men had been transferred to Bridgewater from a treatment facility in Plymouth because they had escaped, been disruptive, or assaulted others.
The men were committed under a law known as Section 35, which allows a person to petition a judge to commit someone whose addiction to alcohol or drugs poses a serious risk of harm.
Silva said the state can place civilly committed men in facilities like Bridgewater as long as they are not living in the same quarters or receiving treatment alongside people with criminal convictions.
“There is no physical interaction,” Silva said of the conditions in Bridgewater. “It’s an entirely separate unit. They have an entirely separate exercise area ... the fact that there is sight and sound does not mean we’re not in compliance.”
Campo disagreed, saying “to me, the statute means you don’t hear or see these people.”
Last spring, the Department of Correction shut down its former addiction center — a separate facility in the prison campus in Bridgewater — and began moving patients to a minimum-security center in Plymouth. The plan was to provide a more therapeutic environment, part of Governor Charlie Baker’s ongoing efforts to improve conditions for the population at the Bridgewater campus, particularly the state hospital. But nine patients soon walked off the grounds.
They and several others were then sent to the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. The men’s lawyers said the transition was not smooth, and the men left out of frustration they were not receiving proper treatment. But they said they received even less treatment in Bridgewater.
On Friday, Silva said that a licensed social worker is assigned full-time to the facility and that men have daily access to group therapy.Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.