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Pressley criticizes Tompkins plan for Mass. and Cass treatment center

A view from the roof of Food-Pak Express shows tents lined up along Topeka Street last week near the Mass. and Cass intersection.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

US Representative Ayanna Pressley on Tuesday joined some advocates and public health specialists who have criticized a proposal from Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins to use one of his buildings as a treatment center to address the addiction crisis in Boston’s nearby Mass. and Cass area.

Tompkins’s proposal calls for housing and treating people against their will, through the criminal court system, with police deciding whom to pick up and District Attorney Rachael Rollins deciding whom to prosecute.

Critics have called the plan deeply misguided and unjust, saying it would put vulnerable people in greater danger. But some business owners near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, commonly called “Mass. and Cass,” have said swift action is necessary there to prevent greater crises.


Pressley, in a statement, was critical of Tompkins’s proposed “criminalization” of drug users through “involuntary commitment to repurposed prison facilities” — several empty floors where immigration detainees were previously held in a building adjacent to the South Bay House of Correction.

In a brief statement Tuesday evening, Tompkins said he welcomed Pressley’s input in the debate but did not directly address her criticisms.

“I think Congresswoman Pressley adding her voice and influence to this issue could be positive if it gets her legislative colleagues to use their collective muscle to rectify the dire Mass/Cass situation,” the sheriff said.

Tompkins told the Globe on Monday that he was not trying to criminalize anyone. His office could connect people who have addiction and mental health issues to necessary services, he said.

“Would you rather have people dying on the street?” he asked.

Under Tompkins’s plan, up to 100 people could stay at the center for as long as 90 days, to help ease the crises of opioid use and homelessness in the area.


Pressley, a Dorchester Democrat and co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act, questioned whether a law enforcement official should be making policy decisions for people struggling with drug use.

“Substance use disorder is a public health crisis,” Pressley said. “That is why public health officials, not law enforcement officers, should drive the decision-making process for a comprehensive solution to combat the substance use crisis that tears at the fabric of communities across the country.”

The representative said she supports “a regional approach to comprehensive services and will continue to fight for investments at the federal level to support necessary and long-overdue coordinated municipal efforts.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.