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 (addiction) and are caught up in the criminal justice system. She is a dedicated advocate for ending the criminalization of drugs and addiction.

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 Slate’s HI-PHI Nation podcast and NPR's On Point. Ultimately, the Court issued a decision against Eldred that avoided answering the question presented.

Lisa's relentless advocacy on this issue continues. In the fall of 2018, she initiated a legislative effort to end the counterproductive and inhumane practice of incarcerating people on probation for relapse. An all-star team of advocacy organizations came together and worked with Senator Cindy Friedman and Representative Ruth Balser to file legislation in January 2019. For more information about SD1477 & HD2727, click here.

Additionally, on behalf of prominent organizations, Lisa has written amicus briefs addressing important legal issues related to addiction. In 2018, she argued in an amicus brief to the Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Plasse 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. In January 2019, she submitted an amicus brief with the Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern School of Law arguing to overturn the involuntary manslaughter and drug distribution convictions in Commonwealth v. Carrillo.