I’d been in a courtroom hundreds of times, but I had seldom heard applause. That changed on the day I sat in on sessions at the Boston Municipal Drug Court in Dorchester.
One round of applause was a reaction to a young man’s acceptance into a detox program instead of prison. The surprise wasn’t the applause itself, but its source: joining in was a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a probation officer. All were clearly rooting for this man’s future success.
Massachusetts has 19 drug courts – 18 for adults and one for juveniles. These specialty courts are intended to address the issues underlying criminal behavior. The idea behind it is: if we can successfully treat the addiction, we can reduce the number of crimes – theft, for example – that were committed to support it.
Drug courts provide intensive, supervised probation and treatment, as well as regular drug testing with progress monitored by a supervising judge. Participants meet with the same judge over time, creating an ongoing relationship that can increase chances of success.
Indeed, Judge Serge Georges – whom I observed at the drug court in Dorchester – knew each probationer he saw well. He knew their stories. He shook their hands. He asked after their family members. He treated each with dignity, and praised them for doing well. And this kind of attention and treatment is happening all across the state; you can read more compelling personal stories in Sarah W. Ellis’ article in the new Boston Bar Journal.
The BBA is a long-standing supporter of funding for specialty courts, including drug courts, and my visit only reinforced that position. I’d read the statistics: for every dollar invested in drug court, taxpayers save more than $3 in avoided criminal justice costs; drug courts reduce crime as much as 45% more than other sentencing options. But seeing the faces and hearing their success stories (and the applause!) had more impact than the numbers. For this, I’d like to thank Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo and Justice Georges for hosting my visit. It was clear to me that they are both passionate supporters of the drug court, and are personally invested in its success.
The BBA appreciates their dedication and is proud to support the specialty courts. To learn more, and to stay on top of policies impacting drug courts, be sure to read this week’s Issue Spot.