Message from Chief Justice

Welcome to the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Center of Excellence for Specialty Courts website.

Nationally, specialty courts have proven to be an effective response to real and critical societal problems that often lead to criminal behavior. Drug courts in particular have evolved over the last 20 years to become evidence-based and proven reliable in reducing recidivism and improving outcomes for those who graduate.

In the past specialty courts such as drug courts in Massachusetts operated through the ingenuity and efforts of judges and probation staff, and others that obtained grants or stretched their existing staff to operate these sessions. Commitment to expansion as a system did not exist. That has changed. System support now exists not only from Trial Court leadership but also from the Governor, the Legislature, partnering state agencies, and funding partners.

Drug courts and other specialty courts are now central to our success as a system. Given the severity of the addiction, substance use, mental health, and trauma-based challenges of many individuals appearing in our courts, and their continued cycling through the system, we must address the underlying causes of their behavior if we ever hope to make a difference in their lives and in the level of safety in our communities.

The Center of Excellence is one of the ways we hope to ensure that all specialty courts, new and established, follow uniform practices that, to the greatest extent possible, utilize evidence based principles in their establishment and their operation. The overarching premise must also take into account that some practices may need to be customized to local situations.

Judicial independence is a core tenet to a successful specialty court and to the strength of our judicial system. The Center of Excellence aims to supply our courts and justice partners with a valuable context and “how to” information that can help avoid traps others have fallen into and thereby ensure faster progress toward long term, positive outcomes.

This website strives to support new specialty courts as they develop, and equally as important, to ensure and provide continuous improvement of existing specialty court sessions. I sincerely hope judges, probation officers, and fellow justice partners find this site to be a helpful resource, and use it frequently as a reference for best practices and a building block for a better future.

Many people across the court system, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health and various treatment providers supported the development of the Center of Excellence for Specialty Courts. In addition to our remarkable partners at UMass Medical School, I want to particularly thank Chief Justice Paul Dawley of the District Court Department and Chief Justice Robert Ronquillo of the Boston Municipal Court Department, Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan, Judge Robert Ziemian, Judge Kathleen Coffey, Specialty Courts Administrator Sheila Casey, Karen Pressman of the Department of Public Health, and Assistant Commissioner of Forensic Services Debra Pinals, MD of the Department of Mental Health, for their contributions and commitment to the development of this website and of the Center itself. Last but not least, I want to recognize and thank the court-wide steering committee that provided oversight to the full undertaking. 

Paula M. Carey

Chief Justice, Massachusetts Trial Court