New York Times, June 4, 2018
Jan Hoffman

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[...] Should an addict’s relapse be punished with a criminal sanction? Ms. Eldred has put that question before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a case that may have widespread ripples, as hundreds of thousands of addicted people tumble into the criminal justice system. Remaining drug-free is an almost universal requirement of probation. Violating it can bring sanctions ranging from a warning to, frequently, jail.

The judge ordered Ms. Eldred to a medium-security prison, until her lawyer could find her residential treatment. During the 10 days she spent there, she did not receive any drug counseling, much less Suboxone.

In Commonwealth v. Julie Eldred, the justices, presiding over the state’s highest court, are wrestling with whether this condition of her probation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment for an offender with a substance use disorder. In reaching a decision, expected imminently, the justices must weigh competing scientific studies. Is addiction a brain disease that interferes with one’s capacity to abstain? Or a condition, rather than a disease, that is responsive to penalties and rewards? [...]

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