"Many of us, and I am one of them, firmly believe that you cannot just lock people up and incarcerate them and expect their substance abuse issues to go away. It's just not working anymore," admitted Massachusetts District Court Justice Mary Heffernan in a recent feature by The Marshall Project on sentencing alternatives for female addicts.
The article looks at a trend in Massachusetts over the past couple of years to more seriously employ residential treatment programs over prison time for nonviolent offenders with substance abuse issues, particularly for women.
RESPONSE TO SUBSTANCE ABUSE
In Massachusetts in 2014, there were 1,000 fatal overdoses—a record high. That same year, the state funded two new female recovery homes. Last year, Gov. Charlie Baker convened a panel that produced a report that recommended treatment centers for female addicts entering the justice system. Meanwhile, the number of drug courts jumped by five, bringing the state’s total to 18.
"Those who work in the field say there's a growing recognition within the Massachusetts criminal justice system and among policymakers that intensive drug treatment can be a key to helping women transform their lives in a way that prison does not," said Meredith Berg who wrote the story.
"I got a beautiful second chance to be a mother to my son," said Kayla Duggan who completed the program at Edwina. "I had to learn to be responsible, be available today. Because I wasn't available before."
Interestingly enough, these programs are cheaper than prison, by about half. At Edwina Martin, it costs $12,000 to $18,000 for a four-to-six month stay. At the women’s prison in Framingham, the cost is about $60,000 yearly to incarcerate one person.
Nationally, we're still a bit split on the issue, with the trend leaning in favor of drug treatment. While 18 states have laws that are harsher on pregnant mothers who abuse drugs, 32 states fund programs that offer nonviolent female offenders who are mothers the opportunity for family-based treatment over prison time.
A few months ago, we blogged on a similar approach and its impact on recidivism and the well-being of children. While there are those who still contest a "softer" method to treating nonviolent offenders, the national narrative continues to move in the direction of being not softer, but smarter on crime. Massachusetts seems to be one of the leaders in this fight.
To learn more about smarter sentencing efforts, check out our Advocacy page.