The long-discussed wide- ranging opiate treatment bill passed the state legislature late Tuesday night just in the nick of time, after a conference committee on Tuesday agreed to a compromise form of the bill that went through many twists and turns over the past month.
State Rep. Dan Ryan, who is vice chair of the House’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee and had a big hand in the bill, said he was happy to see that the body came to agreement and voted unanimously on the final bill only hours after the compromise reached the floor.
He said that many hard issues were discussed – such as providing opiate treatment to inmates, creating Safe Injection Facilities, and looking at involuntary commitments for substance abuse treatment – but none of the sticking points caused the bill to derail in the last hours.
“A unanimous vote on such a major piece of legislation, such as the opioid bill, shows what we are able to do here in the Commonwealth,” he said. “Because we don’t retreat into our partisan safe zones, we are able deliver a bill that will go a long way in curbing this scourge that had affected so many communities… I have to thank Speaker DeLeo for appointing me vice-chair of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee. My knowledge of so much of the good work being done by others in Charlestown and Chelsea really helped me to shape discussion. I thank everyone in our communities that are doing recovery work.”
Rep. Ryan said he thanked Conference Committee Chair Rep. Denise Garlick and Sen. Cynthia Friedman for their quick analysis of a tough issue.
“After months of public testimony, stakeholder meetings and expert analysis they worked through the weekend processing all of that info and hammered out a bill we can all live with and will save lives,” he said. “Our neighborhoods, hospitals, schools and even correctional facilities will be safer places because of this bill.”
One of the sticking points in the bill was Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs), which allow people to use illegal injection drugs in a supervised medical environment. It is illegal in the United States and opposed by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. While that measure had supporters in the Senate, it did not get support in the House. The compromise on that created a commission to study the concept with municipal leaders, including Mayor Martin Walsh – who opposes the idea outright.
A second measure allows a pilot program in county jails and state prisons to allow treatment medicines, such as Methadone, to be given to inmates. Currently, those in treatment when they enter jail are cut off from that treatment. The pilot, however, does not operate in Suffolk County. Only two state prisons are included – MCI-Cedar Junction and the Plymouth treatment facility for men.
Finally, Ryan said the House had been very much opposed to the idea of Section 35 involuntary treatment, but Gov. Charlie Baker was very supportive of the idea. The program is running in Boston on a pilot with the West Roxbury District Court, and it allows police and medical professionals to involuntarily hold certain individuals for the sake of treatment without the approval of family – which is usually required.
The matter was adopted for study by a commission.
Other highlights include:
Requires electronic prescribing for all controlled substances, with limited exceptions, effective January 1, 2020.
Expands access to naloxone (Narcan) in the community by (1) establishing a standing order, providing access to naloxone without a prescription, (2) allowing certain Sheriffs to purchase naloxone at a lower cost through the state’s bulk purchasing program, and (3) allowing local governments and agencies to exchange unexpired naloxone.
Establishes a commission to make recommendations on the certification of Recovery Coaches.
Mandates that providers check the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) prior to issuing any prescription for a benzodiazepine.
Establishes a Center for Police Training in Crisis Intervention to support cost-effective, evidence-based mental health and substance use crisis response training programs for law enforcement, providing the tools to respond appropriately to behavioral health crises.
The leader of the MS-13 East Coast Program was sentenced July 18 in federal court in Boston for racketeering conspiracy.
Jose Adan Martinez Castro, a/k/a “Chucky,” 29, a Salvadoran national formerly residing in Richmond, Va., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 235 months in prison, the top of the sentencing range recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Castro will be subject to deportation upon completion of his sentence. In November 2017, Castro pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO or racketeering conspiracy.
After a multi-year investigation, Castro was one of dozens of leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 named in a superseding indictment unsealed in January 2016 that targeted MS-13’s criminal activities in Massachusetts. According to court documents, MS-13 members engaged in a variety of racketeering acts and crimes of violence, including six different murders committed by MS-13 members in Massachusetts between October 2014 and January 2016.
Castro was one of 49 defendants to be convicted as part of this case. All nine defendants who went to trial were convicted and 40 others pleaded guilty.
During the investigation, Castro was identified as the leader of MS-13’s East Coast Program. Most of the cliques in Massachusetts fall under the East Coast Program, which also has cliques in Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio.
On Dec. 13, 2015, using a cooperating witness, law enforcement recorded a meeting of the East Coast Program leadership at Castro’s home in Richmond. The recorded meeting provided evidence about the organizational structure, leadership structure, and recruitment system of MS-13 as well as the means, methods, objectives, and operating principles of the gang. Leaders of the East Coast Program cliques from Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia attended the meeting.
During the meeting, Castro and others discussed how there was enough space in the East Coast Program for the all of the assembled MS-13 cliques to work cooperatively. Castro and others also discussed the need for the cliques to be better at planning and coordinating hits (i.e., murders) and Castro confirmed that murders generally had to be approved by MS-13 leaders before the local members could carry them out. The group also discussed sending money to El Salvador to support MS-13, the need to work together to increase the gang’s strength and control, and the need to kill anyone who provided information against the gang. An El Salvadoran-based leader of MS-13 also participated in the meeting via the phone and provided direction to the assembled leaders.
On the heels of record-setting flood events in January and March 2018, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) announced today that it is updating its core mission and resources to help municipalities manage the extreme weather associated with climate change.
“Slowing down climate change is all about managing energy,” said Patrick Herron, MyRWA’s executive director. “Adapting to climate change is all about managing water—both flooding and drought. Water is something that we have thought about for over four decades.”
The Mystic River watershed spans 21 cities and towns from Woburn through Revere. This spring, MyRWA staff met with nearly fifty state and local stakeholders to best understand how a regional watershed association could help municipalities become more resilient to flooding, drought and heat.
“We heard over and over from cities and towns that they can’t manage flooding from just within their municipal boundaries,” explained Herron. “Stormwater flooding in Medford for example, has its origins in upstream communities. Coastal storms below the Amelia Earhart Dam threaten both New England’s largest produce distribution center and Logan Airport’s jet fuel supply.”
“We’re concerned about the neighborhoods and residents living in the shadows of massive petroleum storage tanks and other industries which are projected to be severely impacted by climate change. When the flood waters and chemicals reach homes, how will our communities be protected?” asked Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots in Chelsea. “We’ve seen neighborhoods in Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Houston be decimated. Chelsea and East Boston could be next.”
Based on this feedback, MyRWA requested and received a $115,000 grant from the Barr Foundation that will allow the non-profit to work with municipalities, businesses and community organizations on an action-oriented, regional, climate resilience strategy for the Mystic River Watershed. This grant will allow MyRWA to hire Julie Wormser to lead this new program.
“The Barr Foundation’s climate resilience grantmaking has historically focused on Boston. Yet, we know climate change is no respecter of city boundaries. If some act in isolation, neighboring communities could actually become more vulnerable,” said Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of Barr’s Climate Program. “It is our privilege to support MyRWA’s efforts to advance solutions at a more expansive, watershed scale.”
As executive director of The Boston Harbor Association, Wormser was instrumental in in drawing attention to Boston’s need to prepare for coastal flooding from extreme storms and sea level rise. She coauthored Preparing for the Rising Tide and Designing With Water and co-led the Boston Living with Water international design competition with the City of Boston and Boston Society of Architects. She will join MyRWA as its deputy director beginning July 1st.
“Three of the US cities most engaged in climate preparedness—Boston, Cambridge and Somerville—are located in the Mystic River Watershed,” said Wormser. “This grant will allow us collectively to share information and lessons learned since Superstorm Sandy with lower-resourced municipalities. By working regionally and with the State, we can also create multiple benefit solutions such as riverfront greenways that double as flood protection. It’s very inspiring.”
The City of Chelsea will begin a downtown façade and signage improvement program in a kick-off meeting on July 12.
Business and property owners in the downtown, as well as other interested parties, are invited to this meeting to learn about the rollout of the program and to meet Nathalia Hermida.
Hermida will be available throughout the summer to provide free design services for signage and façade improvements of downtown properties. During this meeting, Hermida will detail the design process, what assistance she’ll be able to provide and how to engage her services.
Along with responding to inquiries solicited through this meeting, Hermida will also be approaching specific identified properties. Those interested in the program who cannot attend this meeting should contact Mimi Graney, Downtown Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Design consultation with Hermida will be available both in English and in Spanish.
The City of Chelsea Façade and Signage Program meeting will take place on Thursday, July 12, at 8:30 a.m. at Chelsea City Hall, third-floor Committee Room.
In the big scheme of $100 million-plus budgets, $150,000 is pretty small potatoes, but that small allotment approved by the City Council went a long way to instantly changing the trajectory of dozens of Chelsea High (CHS) students last Thursday, May 10, when they learned that the City would pay for them to finish their Associate’s Degree after graduation.
CHS Principal Priti Johari made the announcement to 94 seniors that qualified for the new pilot program approved by the Council about one month ago. At first, there was an air of disbelief.
But after about 20 minutes, there were smiles and a lot of tears from students gathered there – many of whom had given up on going to college.
Guidairys Castro said she had been accepted to UMass Dartmouth, Roger Williams and two other colleges. However, even with financial aid, it was still out of her reach, and even though she gathered more than 12 college credits at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) through the dual enrollment program over the past two years, she said she wasn’t even going to be able to pay for finishing that Associate’s program.
“I would say this is life-changing,” she said. “It definitely changes everything for me. I wasn’t thinking about getting to go to college. This is a very good opportunity for me. I didn’t think I would have the money I needed to finish and then go on to a university. I applied to so many colleges and got accepted, but when the financial aid numbers came back, I realized it wasn’t going to happen for me. Today, that all changed.”
On Thursday, Castro sat down with the other 93 seniors who qualified, most not knowing what the big announcement was going to be. Johari said students had to complete 12 credits, and if they agree to stay in Chelsea and go to BHCC, they can finish their Associate’s Degree on the City’s dime as part of the program.
“This is a special group and a really exciting announcement,” she told them. “The City of Chelsea is investing in you. That is exciting…They want you to go to college and graduate, then come back to Chelsea. We want higher education to be more affordable. I know a lot of you have big dreams and can’t go to college because of money. City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the Council wanted to take money away as an obstacle.”
Ambrosino was heartened to hear of the scene after the announcement, and said it made him believe that the program is worthy and should be continued next year.
“I’m thrilled because this is exactly why we did that program and how we wanted it to work,” he said. “We wanted it to change people’s lives.”
Others in the room were relieved because they were going to have to pay out of pocket to finish at Bunker Hill.
Barbara Mendez and Emily Romero said they were going to have to take a year off to work full-time, perhaps more than one job, to be able to pay for going back to Bunker Hill next year.
With the announcement, that all changed.
“We were going to work for a year, but now there is no point in doing that,” said Mendez.
Both were interested in nursing, and early childhood care. The plan was to finish the Associate’s and transfer to a university – which is the popular route nowadays for students wishing to save significant money on college.
“Most of us in this room are the first to even consider college in our families,” said Romero. “It’s a big achievement for our family. They are going to be so happy to hear this. I feel this is really going to help me because I was going to have to pay out of pocket, and I didn’t know if I would have the money. It’s a great opportunity.”
For David Cruz, the scholarship is going to speed up his career path, as he wants to finish up at Bunker Hill and transfer to Bridgewater State. There, he wants to study aviation so he can be an airline pilot.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do as long as I can remember,” he said with a smile.
The applications for the new program were due on Monday, May 14, and many of the 94 eligible students were expected to apply.
Metro Credit Union (MCU) has been selected to participate in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Equity Builder Program, which assists local homebuyers with down-payment and closing costs assistance. Metro received $110,000 through the program, which is available on a first come first serve basis. Homebuyers, at or below 80 percent of the area median income and complete a homebuyer counseling program are eligible to receive up to $11,000 to be used in conjunction with Metro’s flexible loan programs and reduced fees.
“We are pleased to be able to offer this assistance to help ease some of the challenges associated with a home purchase. Homeownership is key to building wealth and creating financial stability, and programs that assist homebuyers are a critical component in ensuring that our communities continue to thrive,” said Robert Cashman, President & CEO, Metro Credit Union.
Since 2003, the Equity Builder Program has awarded more than $35 million in EBP funds assisting 3,150 income-eligible households to purchase a home.
To learn more about applying for assistance, please contact a Metro Mortgage Specialist at 877.696.3876 or visit MetroCU.org.
About Metro Credit Union
Metro Credit Union is the largest state-chartered credit union in Massachusetts with over $1.3 billion in assets, and serves more than 170,000 members. It is a growing, federally insured financial institution and a leading provider of a full range of financial services to anyone living or working in Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Plymouth, Barnstable, Bristol or Worcester counties in Eastern Massachusetts, as well as Massachusetts state employees and retirees throughout the Commonwealth. Founded in 1926, Metro Credit Union is a non-profit cooperative institution, owned by and operated for the people who use and benefit from its products and services. Metro uses superior customer service and technology to deliver a full range of financial products to consumers and businesses in eastern Massachusetts. Learn more about Metro Credit Union at www.metrocu.org
On Tuesday, April 10, at Chelsea District Court, the courtroom was filled with people who had arrest records as long as the Declaration of Independence. They sat at the tables where defendants usually sit.
They’d all been there before numerous times due to their addiction, drug use and petty crimes. This time, though, they were there to graduate – to acknowledge that they’d completed a program at least 18 months long with the courts that helped them turn their lives around.
The program is Drug Court, and it was innovated in Chelsea in 2000 and continues strong through the support of judges, probation officers, recovery coaches and other resources. It is a last stop, last chance for many people who have been in and out of jail for their entire lives.
“It saved my life,” said Erin Eckert, cradling her young toddler girl and noting that she was at the lowest one can get while on the streets of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass in Boston’s South End – known as Methadone Mile. “It took me a long time to do this and make the decision. When I did, it literally saved my life.”
On Tuesday, seven people graduated from the program. Most had been in jail several times, had years or decades of court involvement. This time, though, they changed that trajectory. Most had been clean for more than a year, and most were employed. Families and supporters came to celebrate.
SJC Justice David Lowy was the keynote speaker, sharing how he had lost a cousin last year to opiate overdose. Almost all of the big players in the state’s judiciary were in attendance.
Everyone cried, but they were tears of celebration and relief.
Chelsea started and innovated the program years ago, and now there are drug courts in many of the urban District Courts that are built on that same model. It is a strike against the opiate epidemic, and one that works for many people.
“This last time I was up and down with it,” said Kristen Barnett, who entered the Drug Court in February 2015. “All I know is I changed my life this time. I don’t know what to say why I did it this time, but I did. I’m happy to be here today.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley this week welcomed new community partners to an ambitious diversion project, hoping to double the capacity of a program that allows juveniles charged with some serious offenses to get their lives back on track without incurring additional entries on their records.
Conley’s office launched the Juvenile Alternative Resolution pilot project in February 2017 with half a dozen community-based agencies that provide individualized services to Boston’s youth. In May, the partner agencies began accepting juveniles who faced delinquency charges in the Boston Juvenile Court and showed a moderate to high risk of re-offending. And yesterday, Conley welcomed a new batch of agencies to the team.
“Historically, juvenile diversion in Massachusetts has been geared toward first-time and low-level offenders, and it’s been limited in the services available to promote post-diversion success,” Conley said. “We envisioned something more ambitious – something that would re-direct the lives of young people charged with more serious offenses, even high-risk teens. We sought out partners who could offer individualized services for a wide range of needs. And our shared goal across agencies was to divert young adults outward, away from the criminal justice system, instead of upward and deeper into it.”
By March of this year, 45 juveniles had entered the JAR program and received supervision, support, and services through one or more community partner agencies. Of that number, 12 successfully completed the program and 31 are on track to do so.
Together, the 45 participants accounted for 100 offenses. Almost two-thirds of those offenses were classified as “crimes against the person,” including assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and unarmed robbery. Some were as young as 11, but about half were 16 or 17 years old. About 60% of the juveniles were from Dorchester or Roxbury, about two-thirds were male, and almost all were youth of color.
Participants are also showing significant drops in the risk and need factors they had when they entered, Conley said, reflecting a course correction in the trajectory of their lives. Because JAR-eligible delinquency complaints are placed on hold upon entry to the program and dismissed upon completion six to nine months later, the cases never appear on the participants’ juvenile records.
By expanding the available partners, Conley hopes to double the program’s capacity in the year to come – and continue to accept even juveniles who have prior system involvement and face moderate- to high-level charges. The goal, he said, was to juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system in Suffolk County – and the barriers to social, academic, and employment success that can follow.
“We were warned that there was a risk in taking this older, more experienced cohort into the program,” Conley said, “but what we’ve seen thus far convinces me that the rewards outweigh that risk.”
In addition to formal diversion through the JAR program, first-time and low-level juvenile offenses are informally diverted every day by Suffolk prosecutors. Throughout the year, almost 60% of the county’s delinquency complaints were diverted, with diversions outnumbering youthful offender indictments by more than 10 to one.
“That’s as it should be,” Conley said. “Some crimes are extremely serious and some offenders pose a danger to the community. But most kids and teens come to us with minimal records for minor offenses – better suited to the justice of an angry parent than the Juvenile Court. The JAR program is for youth in between, whose actions are more serious but don’t include gun violence, sexual assault, or serious bodily injury.”
The first group of community partner agencies included Action for Boston Community Development’s Changing Tracks Initiative, the Justice Resource Institute SMART Team, MissionSAFE, the Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program, the RFK Children’s Action Corps Detention Diversion Advocacy Program, and UMass Boston. Yesterday, Conley welcomed new partners to the fold – including a collection of youth service programs offered through Action for Boston Community Development, the Charlestown Coalition’s Turn It Around program, More Than Words, and YouthConnect.
“Every life is a journey, and as youth service providers you’re the map and compass these kids need,” Conley told the assembled group. “We’re changing those young lives today, but we’re changing outcomes tomorrow that will strengthen families and communities for years to come. We’re making Boston a safer, fairer place. And that’s a legacy we can all be very proud of.”
Two weeks after a controversial meeting that was only supposed to be an introduction, members of John Ruiz’s team said they want to be positive and move forward with everyone – despite any conflicts that arose after the meeting on Feb. 6.
“We want to keep it all positive,” said Mark Giblin, Ruiz’s business manager and a partner in the proposed youth center venture at the old CCC. “Negativity can be contagious and so can positivity, so we want to concentrate on the positive now…Where we’re at now is moving forward with the City and waiting for them to put out the RFP. Once that happens, we will pursue it. We already have a letter of intent from the owner, Mr. D’Amico, to operate in the building.”
The Feb. 6 Conference on Committee was called for by Councilor Leo Robinson, and it was meant to be an introduction. However, some in the Ruiz camp were offended by the questions and much of their presentation didn’t get shown due to questions about money.
Giblin said the questioning in what was supposed to be a preliminary introduction disappointed them, but they still want to try to work with everyone.
“We made it really clear what we intended the meeting to be was an introduction,” he said. “We wanted to take off the table talk about finances and costs. We didn’t want to talk about money yet because it’s about the youth and community now. We were a bit put off because a lot of the questions then ended up being about money…We didn’t want that at all because we wanted to talk about the program with Explorers Post 109. They’ve been in the mix the whole time. We spoke with them before the meeting…We had the support of the police chief too, but we didn’t even get to that part in the meeting because it did become somewhat of an attack in a sense…I can’t speak for John, but I’ve been to Chelsea several times in the last year. I’ve begun to have a place for it in my heart. I think now us, the City Manger and the City Council just need to work together to figure this out and push everything else aside.”
The plan for the old CCC Center is to create a youth center there with a boxing club sponsored by former heavyweight Champ John Ruiz (a Chelsea native) as well as other sports and academic programs. The key part of the program is that it is in the downtown area of Chelsea, and that is something the City is very supportive of.
He said that Ruiz and the team did apologize to Post 109 for not giving them the plan beforehand on paper, but they had been talking about it before the meeting verbally. He said there was never any intention to do anything to displace the historic club.
“The Post has been in this plan the whole time,” he said. “They’ve always been in the proposal and always fit in the proposal. It’s part of the program. We don’t’ want to change anything that’s already there and working.”
In the end, Giblin said he hopes that Council President Damali Vidot will be able to work with them, and be able to help Ruiz give back to the community he loves. He said they are ready to move in a positive direction.
“A Chelsea united is much more effective than a Chelsea divided,” he said. “That’s where we’re at now.”
The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.
Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.
The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.
“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”
It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”
Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.
With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.
Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.
A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.