×

Editorial: Granting women inmates access to opioid treatment the right call


Friday, February 09, 2018

As the opioid epidemic has taken hold in the nation, Franklin County’s jail has become more of a rehabilitation center because so many of its inmates arrive with addiction problems. The jail used to see mainly alcohol additions, but today it’s mostly opioid dependency.

For inmates hooked on drugs, serving time in the Elm Street jail might actually be a good thing because of the many programs offered to promote and support recovery from addiction.

Under Sheriff Christopher Donelan, a co-founder of the regional opioid task force, the jail has led the way in Massachusetts in offering inmates medically assisted addiction treatment, under the guidance of local opioid expert Dr. Ruth Potee, another key member of the task force. The program received a $100,000 grant in August to support it as a pilot for the state’s other county jails.

More recently, Donelan has made another change at the jail, to extend this treatment to others who may need it — women inmates.

Since 2014, local women inmates have gone to the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee, where they did not get the same access to addiction treatment as the men in Greenfield.

Starting this month, women inmates will be returning to the Elm Street facility.

This means 22 Franklin County women will not only serve their time locally, but they also will have access to the same addiction treatment model the Franklin House of Correction has been pioneering. The women will be a part of this program on a need and desired basis.

The House of Correction has space for these 22 women because of a reduction in the number of federal inmates at the facility.

Donelan said this will make the Franklin County House of Correction the first in the state to offer such treatment to women.

In the past, and elsewhere, when someone enters a jail or house of correction, their access to either anti-addiction medication or illicit drugs was cut off. With opioid addiction, quitting “cold turkey” is not a viable option. With the ability to access treatment while serving time, an individual may have a better chance of finding success when released.

“It’s a very relevant program that should have a huge impact for the quality of life of anybody who participates in it,” Donelan said.

Opioid Task Force co-founder and Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan said this could also decrease the numbers of people coming back into the courts and the jail — men and women alike.

“There will be an impact on the recidivism in Franklin County and particularly within the female population,” Merrigan said.

“His goal is to help that population get back on their feet and be a part of society,” Merrigan said about Donelan. “He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t have that as a bottom line.”

This is just another step for Donelan and the task force, as they continue to seek ways to ensure people don’t return to court or jail.