PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT
John Adams Courthouse
One Pemberton Square
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Jennifer Donahue/Erika Gully-Santiago
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 30, 2023
Supreme Judicial Court Issues New Standards on Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Conditions
BOSTON, MA -- The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today issued new Standards on Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Conditions for the guidance of judges, clerks, probation officers and other court staff in responding effectively to people in the courts who are exhibiting signs of these conditions. The new standards update and supersede the Standards on Substance Abuse that were approved by the SJC Justices in 1998.
The new standards were compiled by a working group of representatives from across the Massachusetts court system. The working group was established in 2019 under the leadership of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and after his death in 2020 was led by former Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. In developing the new standards, the working group met with outside experts and stakeholders, including addiction specialists, mental health professionals, physicians, MassHealth experts, representatives from the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Public Health, sheriffs, prosecutors, and defense counsel.
"On behalf of the SJC, I would like to thank Chief Justice Carey and the members of the working group for their efforts and dedication to completing this important project," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd. "Substance use disorders and mental health conditions affect many litigants appearing in our courts, and these new standards provide a crucial roadmap for offering them the help they need."
Implementation of the standards and related training for judges, clerks, probation officers, and other court staff will be overseen by a committee recently appointed by Trial Court Chief Justice Jeffrey A. Locke and co-chaired by Superior Court Chief Justice Heidi E. Brieger and District Court Chief Justice Stacey J. Fortes.
"Education is essential to implementing the best practices set out in these new standards," said Chief Justice Locke. "We need to do our best to ensure that judges, clerks, probation officers, and other court staff are aware of the principles embodied in the standards and understand how to put them into action every day in our courts."
In a cover letter to their colleagues in the court system, the Supreme Judicial Court Justices wrote that the new standards incorporate insights that behavioral health experts have gained from their research and practice over the last 25 years. Among other developments, these new standards are informed by the following principles:
The new standards also envision courts as information and navigation centers that can offer information about substance use disorders and mental health conditions and available options for treatment and recovery support.