For Immediate Release - October 28, 2014

Trial Court Partners with University of Massachusetts Medical School to Create Specialty Courts Center of Excellence

BOSTON, MA – In an effort to create uniform and best practices for specialty courts in Massachusetts, the Trial Court has partnered with UMass Medical School to create a Center of Excellence that will strengthen the state’s ability to increase public safety while addressing issues of mental health, substance use, and trauma within the criminal justice system, Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence said.

Specialty courts focus on improving both justice system outcomes and the treatment and management of defendants with serious substance use and health problems. The Center of Excellence will enable the Trial Court to expand specialty courts statewide in a standardized, systematic way by using evidence-based practices. The Center will also help individual specialty courts meet and maintain a nationally established certification criteria.  

The new Center will be located at UMMS and will focus on multiple areas, including research and evaluation, training, legal research and support, marketing and outreach. The Center will encourage innovative leadership and research, and will standardize best practices for adult and juvenile specialty court sessions. It will develop specialized training for specialty court staff and judges. As specialty courts expand throughout the state, the Center will assist with the specialty court certification process and data collection across the court system. The Center will build a website to disseminate information on its practices and progress.

“The creation of the Center is a bold step for the Trial Court,” said Chief Justice Carey. “It comes as we ramp up to expand specialty courts across the Commonwealth, a key initiative outlined in the Trial Court’s Strategic Plan. We’re confident that the experienced and talented team at UMMS will help us achieve our goal of doubling the number of specialty courts in Massachusetts by 2017. Together, we can set the standard for specialty courts statewide.”

“Joining forces with UMass Medical School is the next, vital step for the Trial Court to expand specialty courts,” said Court Administrator Harry Spence. “UMMS is an ideal partner for the Court: the school has a strong track record of community medicine, and its expertise in consulting on public health issues means that they can hit the ground running and maintain that momentum for us.”

“It’s an honor to be chosen to work with the Trial Court on such an important initiative,” said Dr. Ira K. Packer, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UMass Medical School and Director of the Center of Excellence. “UMMS has a proven history of specializing in research and consultation on treatment for substance use and mental health issues, and in managing numerous federal and state grants. The Center will serve as the focal point for evidence-based and data-driven support of specialty courts, as well as a home for active, ongoing learning that can be shared across the court system.”

The creation of the Center of Excellence is the result of extensive cross-agency collaboration. Over the last two years, the Trial Court, the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Use Disorders Services, and the Department of Mental Health have engaged in numerous initiatives to promote public safety and increase resources, including the expansion of specialty courts.

The Center will draw on the expertise and experience of Trial Court leaders and their partners, including criminal justice agencies, treatment providers, researchers, and technical assistance providers, who visit individual courts regularly to assess program compliance and progress.

The Center of Excellence will report to the Trial Court, and will work with an Advisory Committee of leaders from the courts, the Office of the Commissioner of Probation, and the following organizations:

  • Judicial Institute
  • Department of Mental Health
  • Department of Health, Bureau of Substance Use Disorders Services
  • Governor’s Interagency Council on Substance Use Disorders and Prevention
  • Governor’s Crime Commission
  • Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association
  • Department of Veterans’ Services
  • Committee for Public Counsel Services
  • Massachusetts District Attorneys Association