What are Specialty Courts?
Specialty Courts are problem-solving court sessions which provide court-supervised probation and mandated treatment focused on treating the mental health or substance abuse issues underlying criminal behavior.
Judges in drug court sessions typically impose a strenuous regimen of treatment and accountability, and require a strong personal commitment from defendants to take control of their life situations and eliminate drug use.
The key elements to an effective drug court program include: intensive probation supervision, including frequent drug testing, participation in treatment and therapeutic activities, and careful progress monitoring by the drug court judge.
The use of specialty courts has increased significantly in the last few years throughout the country. Specialty courts focus on substance use disorder (drug courts), mental health issues (mental health courts) and veterans’ issues (veterans treatment courts).
Massachusetts has several types of specialty court sessions:
- Adult Drug Court
- Juvenile Drug Court
- Mental Health Court (also called Recovery with Justice)
- Veterans’ Treatment Court
- Homeless Court
Learn more about Massachusetts Specialty Court programs
Center of Excellence for Specialty Courts: The Trial Court has established the Massachusetts Center of Excellence for Specialty Courts to standardize the suoperation of specialty courts throughout the state. To learn more about the Center of Excellence, please visit www.macoe.org.
Specialty Courts Locations
Massachusetts has 22 adult drug courts and three juvenile drug courts. The adult drug courts operate in the following District Courts: Ayer, Barnstable, Brockton, Cambridge, Chelsea, Concord, Dudley, Fall River, Greenfield, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, New Bedford, Newton, Orange, Plymouth, and Quincy.
There are five veterans’ treatment courts in Massachusetts:
- Norfolk County Veterans Treatment Court, located at the Dedham District Court,
- Boston Veterans Court, located in the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court,
- Essex County Veterans Treatment Court, located at Lawrence District Court,
- Middlesex County Veterans Treatment Court at the Framingham District Court; and
- Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court, located at the Holyoke District Court.
Adult Drug Court
Drug courts address the issues underlying criminal behavior, such as drug or alcohol substance use disorder and/or mental illness. Drug Courts provide intensive, supervised probation and mandatory treatment, as well as random drug testing with progress monitored by a supervising probation officer. The court works with treatment providers, which provide clinical assessments, develop and monitor treatment placements, and identify ancillary counseling, case management and outreach services.
Juvenile Drug Court
Massachusetts Juvenile drug courts follow the Reclaiming Futures model, a proven methodology that enlists the child’s family, school, and community support systems to create an individualized treatment program that addresses the child’s substance use disorder and antisocial behavior.
Mental Health Courts (Recovery with Justice)
Mental health court sessions include a court-imposed condition of probation for defendants who have serious mental illness or co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders. The sessions provide an alternative to incarceration through case management, and by linking to community-based services with probation. Probationers must participate in community-based treatment for a minimum of three months along with regular reviews by the specialty court team.
Participation in the mental health court is for people placed on pre-trial probation or post-disposition probation, and who have serious mental health issues or co-occurring mental health and alcohol/substance use disorders.
Working with a mental health clinician, the probation officer assigned to the mental health session identifies the particular mental health and social needs of each participant. The treatment provider creates a service plan which includes referrals to mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment when appropriate, as well as housing, educational and employment opportunities.
Veterans' Treatment Courts
Veterans’ treatment courts are designed to handle criminal cases involving defendants who have a history of military service through a coordinated effort among the veterans services delivery system, community-based providers, and the court. The sessions aim to improve public safety while dealing with the underlying issues of posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol, mandated treatment, swift accountability, and weekly interaction with the court are requirements of the Veterans Treatment Court.
- Boston Veterans Treatment Court
- Dedham Veterans Treatment Court
- Dedham Veterans Treatment Court Referral Form
for use in the Dedham District Court Only
- Dedham Veterans Treatment Court - Information Sheet
- Dedham Veterans Treatment Court Referral Form
The Homeless Court is a specialty court in the Boston Municipal Court Department held at the Pine Street Inn and Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. Started in 2010 as a pilot program, the purpose of the court is to assist defendants who are homeless or at risk of being homeless secure permanent housing, employment and government benefits.
Upon the completion of a substance addiction treatment program, job training program or mental health treatment, a defendant’s pending or open default warrants are removed in misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases. The cases are dismissed or terminated in consideration of the defendant’s work and efforts to address their behaviors and substance addictions that caused the criminal conduct.
Homeless Court Program - A Way Forward
Other Specialized Court Sessions
Business Litigation Session of the Superior Court
By agreement between the criminal defense bar and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, cases involving the possession of illegal or unlicensed firearms are transferred to the Central Division from other divisions within the Boston Municipal Court. The transfer of a case takes place immediately after arraignment, and the processing of ballistics or other forms of forensic evidence is expedited at the direction of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. The status of these cases is closely monitored by the court for the earliest possible resolution of discovery and pretrial motions in order to prepare these cases for trial or other final disposition.
The Lynn District Court has a specialized firearm session that focuses and expedites the adjudication of firearm-related criminal offenses. The prompt resolution of firearm charges is seen as essential to reestablishing public safety and confidence in the communities serviced by the court. The Lynn firearm session has a goal of reducing the time between arrest and disposition so that pretrial hearings are held within 45 days of arraignment and charges are disposed within 120 days.