Standards on Substance Abuse: Standard VIII. Assessments

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

Table of Contents

Standard VIII

When the court has determined as a result of a screening that substance abuse is a factor in the case and has issued or is considering a court order of substance abuse treatment, a substance abuse assessment should be conducted under the direction of the probation department, in order to determine which form of treatment will be most appropriate and effective.


The purpose of this standard is to assure that court-ordered treatment will be based on comprehensive information regarding a party's drug or alcohol abuse. An assessment should be done and considered by the court at each stage of a case when the court is considering a change in a party's status. An assessment is an in-depth process to determine a person's specific treatment needs, which takes much longer than a screening. An assessment is an evaluation performed under the direction of the probation department by a qualified clinician or other qualified substance abuse professional. In general, the probation department should refer parties to treatment providers for substance abuse assessments, but some probation officers have the requisite training and experience to conduct substance abuse assessments. Probation officers should be alert to mental health problems which compound substance abuse problems, and, in cases involving major mental illness in addition to substance abuse, the probation department should use the court clinic or an outside vendor with mental health expertise to conduct the assessment. The treatment provider to which the party is eventually referred should always conduct its own clinical assessment, in order to confirm that the referral is appropriate, design a treatment plan, and engage the party in the treatment.

A court-ordered substance abuse assessment should determine whether and to what extent a party is using substances, evaluate the party's suitability for treatment, determine whether and what treatment is appropriate, and establish the degree of risk to the community due to the substance abuse of a defendant or convicted offender in a criminal case. If treatment is appropriate, the assessment should result in a recommendation for treatment appropriate to the party's needs, for a specific time in a designated residential facility or community placement, with proposed monitoring requirements. The assessment should include information regarding any insurance coverage available to the party, including coverage, or eligibility for coverage, by the Massachusetts Medical Assistance program. The assessment should consider all available, relevant information regarding the party, including, where applicable, substance abuse history; mental health history; other areas of psychosocial history and functioning, such as medical and health status; employment and job status; social and family relationships; educational status; legal status (current case and other pending or active cases); treatment history, including responses to and compliance with treatment; prior experience with self help recovery groups; motivation or readiness for treatment; resources and limitations affecting ability to participate in treatment; learning or other developmental disabilities; and family history of mental health and substance abuse disorders.



Main number (617) 557-1000
Clerks' Offices Emergency Number (857) 275-8036
Clerk's Office for the Commonwealth (617) 557-1020

Francis V. Kenneally, Clerk

Clerk's Office for the County of Suffolk (617) 557-1100

Maura S. Doyle, Clerk

Public Information Office (617) 557-1114

Jennifer Donahue, Public Information Officer


John Adams Courthouse
1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500
Boston, MA 02108

Help Us Improve with your feedback