Our collaborator, Dr. Haner Hernandez, has shared with us these "talking points" for Massachusetts families facing a Loved One's involvement with the Criminal Justice System. Includes tips re: warrants, civil commitment (Section 35) and you'll also find the necessary forms to request a criminal offender record.
What to say to families, and what resources, in relation to Criminal Justice:
Section 35 (civil commitments):
In Massachusetts there is a law (known as Section 35) that allows a qualified person to request a court order requiring someone to be civilly committed and treated involuntarily for an alcohol or substance use disorder. Considering a civil commitment can be very agonizing for families and loved ones. This is especially true for communities of color because of their individual and collective experiences with the criminal justice system. That said, some families may come to the point where they believe that they have exhausted all other options. If you decide on the course of action, it’s important that you are well informed of the process and potential consequences and to seek support for yourself and other family members. A good place to start learning more about the process is by visiting the Massachusetts state webpage: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/facilities-and-resources-for-section-35-treatment. You should know that his process includes petitioning the court, and if the petition is granted, the person will be picked by the police and taken to the court to be evaluated. The outcome of the evaluation will determine treatment need, appropriateness and placement.
People returning from jails and prisons (re-entry):
Most people with a substance use disorder will come in contact with the criminal justice system and end up in jail or prison and re-entering to the community will be challenging. This process is very challenging for families that want to receive and support their loved one, but don’t know what to do or expect. The first thing to do is to ask for help. Most jails and prisons these days have established re-entry services, but advocacy is needed to gain access to the services. You should encourage your loved one to ask about what services are available as soon as possible.
If you visit your family member, or if you speak with them over the phone, you should explore what their goals and aspirations are for when they get out. People returning to the community will do best when they have a realistic plan. There are recovery centers established across the state (https://www.recoverybinder.org/resources/recovery-support-centers) and they are equipped with the peers and staff that can help in this regard. Moreover, the family needs to prepare by seeking support and guidance because the first few months will be challenging for everyone. Remember, be patient and understanding, and establish healthy boundaries for the entire family; accountability is important. Attending a support group, seeking counseling, speaking a mentor or spiritual counselor can be some ways of obtaining the support needed. Again, there a number of organizations that provide this type of support and you have to seek them out. The Massachusetts Helpline has a list of all publicly funded services and resources: https://helplinema.org/learn-more/treatment/recovery.
There are many people who have warrants related to their drug seeking behaviors. If you want to find out if you or a loved one has a warrant, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible and you should stay away from places where you can be arrested until the warrant is cleared up. That said, a private attorney will want to charge you money. If you cannot afford an attorney, you should contact a local legal aid organization.
The first thing an individual has to do to determine if they have an open case is to request their criminal offender record. The state of Massachusetts has a website where you can make the request. The following are ways you can request your record:
You can request it online if you have a valid Massachusetts license or ID and it will cost you $25: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/request-cori-as-an-individual.
If you don’t have an ID, you can request it by regular mail by filling out the Personal form.
An advocate or designated representative can request a copy of the record by filling out the Advocate or Designate form.
A Lawyer can request the record by completing the Attorney Request form.
Criminal Offender Records:
We recognize and understand that having a criminal offender record poses real barriers for individuals and families. Some of the barriers include obtaining recovery conducive housing, employment, access to quality health care, education, student loans at the federal level, visiting rights and/or retrieving children from DCF, and others. That said, some states and jurisdictions have passed laws that enable individuals to seal their records. Massachusetts has a designated web page (https://www.mass.gov/seal-your-criminal-record) with information about criminal offender records and the requirements for sealing or expunging them. Also, there are organizations that actively help individuals request a copy of their record and provide free legal advice and guidance on how to seal their records. In Massachusetts, Greater Boston Legal Services provides these and other services. You can visit their webpage (https://www.gbls.org/about) and learn more about the services they provide.