When the Essex County Sheriff’s Department discusses their new Detox Unit in Middleton, they talk about the day they busted “Batman” and Brady, as if superheroes and professional athletes were somehow involved with the intersection of addiction and incarceration on the North Shore. At first glance though, it appears that the real superhero may be the guy who had a vision and knew how to coax a calcified bureaucracy to act on it – Sheriff Frank Cousins.
The detoxification unit started in the summer of 2014 when police found Batman and Brady shooting up heroin in the bathroom of the Newburyport Public Library.
“That particular case helped us identify the need for the detox,” said Essex County Sheriff Frank G. Cousins, Jr.
The police department tracked 30-year-old Batman, Matthew P. Gale, and 26-year-old Timothy Brady for almost a full year. Their research found that both individuals were frequently in and out of the criminal justice system for what are called “quality of life” crimes such as possession, knowingly in the presence of heroin, larceny, and stealing. Despite coming from good families, both struggled with heroin for nearly the entirety of their lives.
The previous protocol, which Cousins referred to as a “spin dry,” was an approach in which addicts were given 48 hours before being placed with the regular prison population or going to court in front of a judge. These addicts were also committing crimes while they had open cases. But the law allows a police department to hold people for up to 30 days over any issue.
Batman waited to go back to court for six months during a period in which the courts didn’t have any drug testing and there was no supervision provided to assist in making sure patterns of substance abuse could be broken. “We looked at it and said we’ve got to do a better job,” recalled Cousins. They were detoxing almost 1,600 people per year. “We said we were going to come up with a solution for this,” he said.
Cousins met with Jonathan Blodgett, the District Attorney of Essex County, who agreed that a serious treatment option was needed. Cousins also consulted with judges, such as Judge Paul Dawley, the Chief Justice of the District Court, to develop the rehab program.
The defendants must agree, in open court with their attorney present, that they want to stay at the detoxification unit for 28 days. The most significant hurdle for the department to jump over was to convince the defense attorneys to agree to hand over their client for those 28 days. Once they’ve completed the program, the individual goes back to court to get on their way to recovery and treatment.
The detox unit includes 42 hospital style detoxification beds, laundry service available, three meals per day, a small workout area and counseling. After two weeks of evaluation by clinical staff, visitors can be approved on a case-by-case basis. There is a locker-room style bathroom with showers, a television and a pay phone. The days of those in the detox program are very structured.
On an average day, the detox unit follows a rigorous schedule that includes a 7 a.m. wake up, meal times, recovery goals meetings, a recreation period, group meetings, clean up, counseling, an 8-9 p.m. review of their goals for the day and lights out. At the end of the 28-day treatment, individuals may be able to dispose of their cases and utilize other pre-trial tools as an alternative to incarceration.
But just one month of cleansing isn’t enough to end addiction. “They’re told, you’ve got to go to a program. Your life is unmanageable,” said Cousins. This is a first-step for people to get help and put themselves on a guided path to getting sober. The department tries to direct them to halfway houses and other programs for drug addiction after the 28-day detox.
The detox program for men has been a great success. Since the detox unit opened in December of 2015, 90% of the 221 inmates admitted have completed the program and successfully transitioned into the next step of overcoming addiction. Overall, the unit has resulted in a decrease in pretrial population by 19%. Because of the success of the men’s program, correctional professionals Laura Dow, the director of the women’s unit, and Darya Maslova, the assistant director, are scheduled to oversee the opening of the first female detox unit set for July 5 – just seven months after the launch of the men’s program.
“Women have all been sent to Framingham State Prison and they haven’t had the same opportunity as the men,” said Cousins. Around Patriots Day there were 20 women held in a holding tank for drug charges being shipped to state prison. This led them to realize that they need to also have a detox facility for women.