Jail Program Pitched As “oasis” for Recovering Addicts

May 29, 2018 GMT

By Andy Metzger


BOSTON - Jailed and trying to recover from addiction, a few dozen criminal defendants held in Boston are part of a new effort by Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins to treat the addiction that so often leads to recidivism.

“We are the House of Correction. We’re not the house of warehousing,” Tompkins told officials gathered at the correctional facility near Newmarket Tuesday to celebrate the opening of Opioid and Addiction Services Inside South Bay, or OASIS.

The sheriff’s office has teamed up with AdCare to provide peer-led recovery groups, mental and physical health education, and referrals for Vivitrol - a medication that helps people stay off opioids, according to Tompkins’ office.


Billing itself as “New England’s most comprehensive provider of alcohol and drug treatment,” AdCare has a 144-bed hospital in Worcester and other facilities around Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

While state prisons have tried to boost their recovery programming, Tompkins’ efforts focus on the male pre-trial detainee population, an often transient group.

Michael Doody, who introduced himself as an alcoholic, described his arrest as a rescue that put him on a path to recovery. Now he looks forward to the resumption of meetings that are held during weekdays, he told the News Service.

“We can’t wait for Monday to come,” said the 49-year-old, who said the programming provided in the House of Correction “breaks up the day and gives us a lot of positive insight.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been in recovery from alcoholism for well over two decades, said the work being done at the South Bay facility is a far cry from what he saw when he first got sober. At that time a group he was involved with would “do a commitment” by speaking at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in prisons, he said.

“The only recovery that happened in the prison was the AA meeting. That didn’t happen consistently,” Walsh said. “Most of the people that went to the AA meeting went there because you earned good time. And you listened, and I think back when I started you smoked a cigarette in the courtyard and you could drink a cup of coffee and get a doughnut. So people did that. But having a comprehensive program that actually dives into addiction is a whole different situation. It’s engaging. It changes people’s behaviors.”

There are about 45 detainees in the OASIS Unit, which has a capacity of 64, according to Tompkins, who said OASIS also works with external partners, referring detainees to those programs “so that they don’t come back.” The unit launched in February and AdCare provides the substance use counselors, according to Assistant Deputy Superintendent Rachelle Steinberg.


Tompkins credited former Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins with pioneering a similar program earlier and he said he wants other sheriffs departments around the state to do the same.

Walsh said that landing behind bars was not out of the realm of possibilities when he was drinking.

“My story didn’t take me to the House of Correction but my story could have,” Walsh told those gathered to celebrate the new program. He said, “I was fortunate. There was somebody - God was looking over my shoulder.”

Suffolk County Dan Conley credited Walsh with helping keep recovery as a top agenda item.

“If Marty wasn’t mayor I’m not sure recovery would be this high a priority as public policy,” Conley said.

Celestino Vicente, a 37-year-old detainee, said the crack epidemic led him to try to make money off drugs, which led to his involvement in gangs.

“I was able to grasp some of the recovery. I was able to grasp some of the resources that I had. I did change my ways. But I was still engulfed in these hoods. I was still engulfed in these cesspools of drug addiction and crime, and it led me here and I disappointed my family,” said Vicente, who said it was “too late” for men like him and Doody - who are both peer leaders - but they can impart lessons to a younger generation that “might save their life.”

“My brother, it’s not too late for you,” Tompkins responded.

Yolanda Smith, superintendent of the Suffolk County House of Correction, which incarcerates those serving sentences as well as the OASIS Unit, suggested expanding the programming to help women.

“I see in our future OASIS 2, which will be for the women,” Smith said.

“OASIS 2. I love the sound of that,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. Walsh said he would show up when a similar program opens for women.

The facility incarcerates around 800 to 1,000 men and less than 100 women, in general, according to Tompkins.

“Thank you for telling me about OASIS 2, Yolanda. We’ll talk about that later,” Tompkins said at the end of the program.

After hearing the officials, visitors took a tour of the OASIS unit, which features common areas with tables and chairs, and rows of cells on two floors with a balcony. Doody said the programming takes place in a dining hall.

Speaking to reporters, Tompkins also gave some qualified support to safe injection facilities where clinicians oversee people using illegal narcotics.

“I do not have a problem with safe injection facilities, but when you talk about oversight, we’d have to make sure that it’s done appropriately and correctly,” Tompkins told reporters. He said, “If we can decrease the amount of people that are getting addicted to drugs; if we can decrease the number of people dying from overdoses - and if that means that they have to go to a safe needle facility, a safer facility to get that shot, then I’m all for it, but and here’s the big but: We need aftercare. So you just don’t show up, get a shot and go about your business. You have to have the aftercare component. Because in the absence of that, they’re going to continue to use, and they’re going to continue to die.”

The Massachusetts Medical Society voted last year to endorse a state pilot program for the facilities, and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees agreed to advocate for the creation of such facilities, but the idea has yet to gain much traction within the State House.