Ending the Criminalization of Addiction

In her two-part career as a public defender and clinical social worker, Lisa has spent over a decade working with people who suffer from severe substance use disorder and are caught up in the criminal justice system.  She is a dedicated advocate for ending the criminalization of drugs and addiction, writing and speaking publicly about the issue.

As an attorney, Lisa has represented several hundred individuals charged with crimes because of their addictions.  As an outpatient addiction therapist, she provided treatment to hundreds of probationers and prisoners.  While working as a clinician at the men's maximum security prison in Massachusetts, Lisa witnessed firsthand the punitive response to prisoners who are actively suffering from addiction (i.e. using drugs in prison); instead of treatment, punishment is imposed, including solitary confinement.  Lisa observed the damaging impact of this punishment.  Her efforts to advocate for treatment in prison were repeatedly shut down. 

Frustrated by her inability to effect change from inside the prison walls, Lisa returned to the practice of law.  She passionately argues that it is unconstitutional, immoral, and clinically damaging to order probationers who suffer from severe substance use disorder to be drug-free and impose incarceration for relapse.  Lisa and co-counsel Benjamin Keehn argued a closely watched case in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Commonwealth v. Eldred) furthering this argument.  Read about the Eldred case in The New York Times (also NYT Editorial), The Atlantic and VICE, and listen to Season 2/episode 8 "Willful Acts" on the HI-PHI Nation podcast and NPR's On Point.  Ultimately, the Court issued a decision against Eldred that avoided answering the question presented.  Thus, Lisa's relentless advocacy on this issue continues. 

On behalf of ten prominent organizations, Lisa submitted an amicus brief in August 2018 to the MA Supreme Judicial Court in which she argues that the SJC should issue a ruling that it is unlawful for a judge to incarcerate a defendant for the sole purpose of “treating” a defendant’s substance use disorder in a jail or prison. While all jails and prisons should provide evidence-based treatments to prisoners, incarceration is an inappropriate environment if the reason for imprisonment is to treat an addiction.