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Getting serious about recovery requires special consideration for women

Re “We can’t incarcerate our way to recovery” (Readers’ Forum, Oct. 19): In response to a recent op-ed on civil commitment for people with substance use disorder, one reader wrote that this condition “requires an almost unfathomable quantity of compassion, patience, and belief in the ability to overcome trauma.” In fact, according to an analyst for the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, the average number of relapses among those who reapplied for care is 11. If people are on probation during a relapse, it has been customary to place them in prison for breaching a condition of probation (“Probation bill would prioritize treatment,” Metro, Oct. 23). Most women in this position are single mothers, and the impact on their children is devastating. In contrast, women-centered residential and nonresidential treatment programs use relapses as opportunities for learning and provide women with tools to recognize and address the triggers.

Another letter discussed trauma and the shame associated with it. Again, this affects women disproportionately. Almost three-quarters of women with substance use disorders have experienced one or more types of psychological, physical, and sexual trauma and associated symptoms of PTSD.


The state wisely has made a commitment to stop sending women to correctional facilities under Section 35 civil commitment, but we have not yet built up enough family-focused recovery centers. This, together with more informed probation practices, and limiting justice system involvement in general, are the critical directions for the future care of women.

Erika Kates


The writer is a senior research scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women.