Suffolk DA expands drug diversion program for those arrested near Boston's 'Mass. and Cass' area

The Suffolk County district attorney is outlining an expanded effort to address crime in the so-called "Mass. and Cass" area of Boston that would allow some people to get drug treatment and potentially avoid prosecution.

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden announced Monday his office would expand an adult drug diversion program for people struggling with substance use and mental health disorders who are arrested in an area near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Several drug programs provide services in the area to those who are unhoused and those with addiction and mental health issues. The area is considered the center of the region's opioid epidemic and was the site of a large homeless tent encampment that city officials removed in January. However, crowds of people still frequent the area.

Last week, after reports of five stabbings in three days, the city closed off nearby Atkinson Street and a city-run center created to offer people food, showers and referrals to social services.

Hayden said he will use $400,000 from his office’s civil forfeiture fund, which contains assets from illegal drug seizures, to cover costs for the expansion of the office's so-called "Services Over Sentences" program.

It would allow people arrested for crimes related to drug use and mental health problems in the "Mass. and Cass" area to opt into treatment instead of being prosecuted. Hayden called it “a fitting use of assets seized from drug dealers to directly address the most visible and problematic drug-related geographic area in Massachusetts today.”

The district attorney said his office will decide who is eligible for the program and only nonviolent offenders may participate. Those deemed eligible for the program after arraignment could use their participation to mitigate their sentences, he said.

Hayden said the expansion of the program specifically will target people who frequent the "Mass. and Cass" area and will build off a similar program his office has been running with the North Suffolk Mental Health Association.

“It’s clear that traditional court involvement is not the answer for many of the vulnerable individuals in the center or fringes of Mass and Cass," Hayden said.
"We need to present alternative solutions that identify and address the issues that brought them there in the first place."


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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