In Massachusetts, an individual with a drug or alcohol problem may be confined against his or her will in a publicly funded detoxification facility. Such a confinement is known as a civil commitment, and may occur (pursuant to chapter 123, section 35 of the Massachusetts General Laws (Section 35)) upon the petition of certain relatives of the individual or other official personnel, and after both an examination by a psychologist and a hearing before a district court judge. A civil commitment may last up to ninety days. When no beds are available at a publicly funded detoxification facility, an individual may nonetheless be detained in one of two facilities: Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH), if male; or the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Framingham (MCI-Framingham), if female. BSH is a state hospital specifically designed to provide “specialized care and treatment.” MCIFramingham is a state prison, “not designed, equipped or staffed to serve as an acute treatment facility for substance abusers.”
This Article argues that the dichotomy created by Massachusetts’s civil commitment laws for alcoholics and substance abusers, which sentence men to a hospital and women to a state prison, is a violation of the equal protection of Massachusetts’s laws. . . .