Standards on Substance Abuse
SJC POLICY STATEMENT
(adopted March 30, 1995)
On March 1, 1995, acting on the advice of its Substance Abuse Task
Force, the Supreme Judicial Court adopted the following systemwide
policy designed to enhance the judiciary's response to the impact
of substance abuse on the courts of the Commonwealth:
EVERY JUDGE IN THE COMMONWEALTH SHOULD
ATTEMPT TO IDENTIFY AND APPROPRIATELY RESPOND TO
THE INDICATION OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE BY ANY PARTY APPEARING BEFORE
HIM OR HER IN A COURT OF THE COMMONWEALTH, WHERE SUBSTANCE ABUSE
IS A FACTOR IN BEHAVIOR RELATED TO THE CASE. AT EVERY STAGE OF THE
ADJUDICATORY PROCESS, COURTS SHOULD PROVIDE ACCESS TO SUBSTANCE
ABUSE INFORMATION AND TO REFERRALS FOR SCREENING, ASSESSMENT AND
TREATMENT FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE.
Definitions. For purposes of
these standards, substance abuse is defined as chronic or habitual
ingestion of drugs or alcohol to the extent that (i) such use substantially
injures a person's health or substantially interferes with his or
her social or economic functioning, or (ii) a person has lost the
power of self-control over the use of drugs or alcohol. It is a
chronic, relapsing disorder requiring ongoing rather than episodic
intervention. It is predictable, progressive, symptomatic, and treatable.
As used in these standards, "substance abuse"
includes abuse of alcohol as well as other legal and illegal drugs;
the term "party" means both a party to a civil case and a defendant
or convicted offender in a criminal case; and the term "court" means
the court as an institution, including judges, clerks, probation
officers, and other court personnel.
Effectiveness of Court-ordered Treatment. A key premise
of these standards is that treatment is effective. (1) Court-mandated substance abuse treatment
programs have been convincingly demonstrated to work. (2) Furthermore, research reveals that motivation
improves as treatment progresses, and that abusers who are coerced
into treatment fare just as well as, if not better than, those who
enter into treatment voluntarily. (3) In fact, most substance abusers enter treatment
not voluntarily, but rather because they are forced by such factors
as a family intervention, pressure from a spouse, or the insistence
of an employer or co-worker. Voluntary participation is rare, since
denial is a symptom of the disease of substance abuse. One goal
of treatment is for the substance abuser to recover to the degree
that he or she takes responsibility for his of her behavior. Treatment
does not always work the first or even the second time, so that
relapse should not be a cause for giving up on a substance abuser.
In fact, strategies to prevent and address relapse are critical
to the effectiveness of treatment. (See Standard
XIII with respect to relapse prevention.)
Purpose. The following standards are intended to provide
guidance in the implementation of the Supreme Judicial Court Policy
Statement on Substance Abuse. They present a single orientation
with which the judicial branch, including judges and all court personnel,
can work together with prosecutors, the defense bar, corrections
officials, and public and private treatment providers to address
the problem of substance abuse which pervades the court system's
caseload. Statistics from the Office of the Commissioner of Probation
show that abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a factor in close
to 80% of probation cases classified under the risk/need system.
In civil cases, substance abuse is frequently cited as a significant
factor in requests for orders of protection, civil commitments,
CHINS petitions, eviction, divorce proceedings, contract disputes,
custody, and child visitation and support cases. The standards contain
recommended steps, consistent with public safety, for courts to
take in responding effectively to substance abuse. The steps are
stated broadly in order to leave room for each court to tailor implementation
to local needs. The standards are intended not to create any new
authority or powers in the courts, but rather to encourage judges
to use their existing authority to respond effectively to substance
abuse, consistent with rules of evidence and other statutory, procedural
and constitutional provisions.
Implementation of the steps contained in the
standards will promote public safety, provide access to treatment,
protect due process, reduce recidivism, ensure offender accountability,
and maintain a responsible and productive work environment for court
personnel. By embracing them, the courts will become leaders in
the Commonwealth's efforts to stop the abuse of all addictive substances
- alcohol and other drugs - and to curtail related criminal activities
and social dysfunction. Public safety will be enhanced, because
offenders who succeed in treatment are much less likely to re-offend.
Substance abusers will be directed toward treatment, recovery, and
more productive lives. Public funds will be saved, since treatment
is significantly less expensive than incarceration. (4)
While much substance abuse treatment is provided
in the community, there are some offenders, even among those suffering
from substance abuse, who are so violent and anti-social that public
safety demands incarceration. In these situations, treatment is
not a substitute for incarceration. Public safety in the Commonwealth
will be enhanced, however, by making treatment available to offenders
while they are incarcerated.
1. "[D]rug and alcohol dependence are
treatable medical illnesses." A. Thomas McClellan, Charles P. O'Brien,
Norman Hoffman, and Herbert D. Kleber, Is Drug Dependence A
Treatable Medical Illness: A Review of Recent Research, supported
by grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Institute
on Drug Abuse, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. p. 30, 1998.
2. See for example,
Corbett & Petersilia, "A Review of Research for Practitioners,"
Federal Probation, vol. 58, no.1, March 1994.
3. Singer, Amy.
Effective Treatment for Drug-Involved Offenders: A Review and
Synthesis for Judges and Other Court Personnel, produced by
Education Development Center, Inc., 55 Chapel St., Newton, MA 02160,
p 144 (May 1992).
Works: The Tragic Cost of Undervaluing Treatment in the Drug War
- A Review of 15 Years of Research Findings on Alcohol and Other
Drug Abuse Treatment Outcomes, published by NASADAD (National
Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors), March 1990,
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