Posts Tagged: drug court

Brockton, Bill, and Budget: Intra-Governmental Efforts to Eliminate Substance Abuse

This past year, we witnessed a proliferation of substance abuse emergencies in our communities, prompting the Governor to declare a public health emergency.  At the same time, our understanding of best treatment both scientifically and criminally continues to evolve.  Thus, we are pleased to see the response of our government, which has come together across branches and politics to make some major changes in an attempt to address the problem.   Through the budget, legislation, and judicial innovation, the Commonwealth is taking on this issue in new and creative ways.

We noted in our budget updates that the Trial Court’s budget request included a $2.7 million “module” for the creation of specialty courts.  Although the final budget was about $3 million below the Trial Court’s $615 million request, it specifically included funding earmarked for this project.  In fact, this module was provided for in each step of the budget process across the Executive and Legislative branches – first by the Governor, next by the House and Senate, and finally in the Conference Committee budget signed by the Governor.  The Senate even called for an additional $300,000 in funding beyond the Trial Court’s request to help fund continuing examination and analysis of specialty court functioning.

At the end of formal session, the legislature passed its own measures to combat drug abuse in the bill S2142, An Act to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery, which Governor Patrick signed into law on August 6th.  The bill is intended to prevent drug abuse by increasing oversight on prescriptions while also making treatment easier to obtain and afford.  Most notably, the bill includes provisions requiring insurance providers to cover deterrent drug products and substance abuse treatment in some cases.  Other parts of the bill increase oversight and monitoring of patients prescribed certain drugs and require coroners to report opioid-related deaths to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition, the bill gives DPH new authority to monitor potentially dangerous substances.  Although the bill costs $20 million and caused some concerns for insurance companies, it passed with bipartisan support and has been touted as a potential model for federal legislation.

Around the same time the bill was passed, the Trial Court announced its plans to open a new specialty drug court in Brockton, funded by the $2.7 module appropriated by the legislature.  BBA President Paul T. Dacier examined the specialty court system and drug courts in particular this year.  In his blog, he notes that the specialty court model achieved remarkable results nationwide, reducing recidivism and helping people recover from addiction.  Specialty Court sessions feature judges trained and peer-reviewed in handling certain issues.  The Courts focus on rehabilitative treatment programs and probation, sometimes lasting up to two years.  This approach has resulted in seventy-five percent of rehabilitation program graduates remaining arrest-free two years out of the program – quite an achievement, especially considering that Specialty Courts handle the cases of those individuals considered most at risk of recidivism.

While the issue of substance abuse is extremely complex and constantly changing, we were pleased to see – from the budget, to a bill, to the execution of specialty courts – that each branch came together in an attempt to solve a problem and improve the lives of people in Massachusetts.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Harry Spence at the BBA Council: Infectious Optimism

This week, BBA President Paul Dacier and the BBA Council had the opportunity to meet with newly appointed Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence.  He was informative and enthusiastic about the trial court’s positive momentum.

The court is improving on all levels.  From the macro-perspective, the court continues to cultivate its good relations with the other branches of government.  The last few years have resulted in stable budgets with modest increases.  This is due in large part to the tireless efforts of Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, who spends days at the legislature building relationships and the respect of lawmakers and key government leaders.  Spence believes that other branches of government have made a fundamental decision to give hands-off support to the courts, and that they won’t return to budget cuts and micromanagement.

Spence is relishing his collaboration with new Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey.  They are working hard to implement the steps and mission statement of the new Strategic Plan, to achieve “one mission with dignity and speed.”  The first changes will come in the areas of technology, specialty courts, and court service centers.

Technology advances will change the way courts operate.  For example, the courts recently completed their online platform.  E-Filing will be available for a majority of criminal cases and a large amount of civil cases in the near future.  Smart phone apps will soon help streamline the court experience for attorneys.  In addition, the court is using other technological advances to overcome staff shortages such as upgrading the phone system in Boston Municipal Court to reduce calls to clerks’ offices and preserving documents digitally so they are infinitely smaller and easier to transport.

The court will also add and improve specialty courts.  These courts have proven effective at reducing incarceration and recidivism by increasing effective responses specially tailored to those suffering from problems such as addiction, homelessness, or veterans’ issues.  Despite initially being a leader in establishing specialty courts, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in their development.  Spence foresees a future where these courts work in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Veterans Services to maximize their impact.  They will be located in the areas most in need of their services and they will operate based on universal standards instilled through a mandatory certification and training process.  They will enhance efficiency by capitalizing on the expertise of clerks and judges, while at the same time sharing back room staffers to avoid the repetition of overhead expenses.  Furthermore, they will gather detailed data and undergo constant evaluation so their true value can be understood.

Finally, the court will implement service centers to help self-represented litigants.  This will take some strain off litigants and judges alike.  Pro se litigants can get the help they need to navigate the court system and judges will see better prepared parties.  Spence described visiting a Connecticut court with mandatory service centers where judges spoke of saving an estimated two to three hours daily thanks to this innovation.

Spence described an ambitious present and bright future for Massachusetts courts.  We at the BBA look forward to these advances and are confident the trial court can make it happen thanks to their new leadership team, strategic plan, and cooperation with other branches of government.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association