Standards on Substance Abuse: Standard I. Judge as leader in court's response to substance abuse

Standards prepared by the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Substance Abuse

Table of Contents

Standard I

Every judge should become well informed about the problem of substance abuse and the process of recovery, and should serve as a leader in the court's efforts to address substance abuse. Judges should be aware of substance abuse, alert to its occurrence, and prepared to  use their authority to take action when it is present.


Judges should have a general knowledge of the nature of substance abuse, the recovery process, various treatment methods, and payment mechanisms for substance abuse treatment, including MassHealth, private insurance, the Department of Public Health, and the Office of Community Corrections. Judges should encourage and enable courthouse staff to obtain substance abuse training appropriate to their respective positions. Judges should be aware of all options for ordering treatment (as provided in the Commentary to Standard V) and be active in ensuring that courts have strategies in place to address cases involving substance abuse. Judges should engage in continuing dialogue with the probation department in order to maintain up-to-date information about treatment options available to the court, keeping in mind limitations on ex parte communications in specific cases. See Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:09, Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3(A) (4).

Although some judges believe that responding to substance abuse is not part of a judge's role, judges who do not take advantage of opportunities to promote recovery of substance abusers are missing the chance to respond to an important societal need which absorbs an inordinate amount of the court's time. Responding appropriately to substance abuse does not convert the courts into a social service agency, or require judges to ignore the other issues in a case. Instead, an effective substance abuse strategy is one element, along with many others, of the courts' central mission of resolving disputes and dispensing justice. The practices of screening for substance abuse, assessing treatment needs, referring parties to substance abuse treatment, and monitoring their progress in treatment, as recommended in these standards, will address the underlying cause of the problems presented in many cases. These practices will thus help to ensure that cases are actually resolved with finality, and that the same problems, caused by the same, recurring substance abuse, do not reappear. In criminal cases, moreover, these practices will promote public safety and contribute to reducing recidivism. By assuming leadership of the courts' response to substance abuse, judges will help to ensure its effectiveness and enhance the administration of justice.



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