President Lisa Arrowood Visits Specialty Courts

It was a graduation, but no one was wearing a cap or gown. Judge Serge Georges’ robes were the only ceremonial garb in the courtroom at the Dorchester Division of Boston Municipal Court on a recent Thursday, where a young woman was about to graduate from the Drug Court Program.

Georges spoke of the “butterfly effect,” a scientific theory which says that even small occurrences can result in big changes. Each participant in the program, Georges said, is a butterfly. They create change in each other’s lives, and in the lives of their loved ones. The graduate’s remarks echoed Georges’ sentiment. She spoke of finding the will to stay clean through acts of support, big and small, by the program’s staff and fellow participants.

The next day, during a Veterans Court session, Judge Eleanor Sinnott spoke of courage, perseverance, and camaraderie as the things that carried one veteran successfully through the Veterans Court program at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston. In spite of roadblocks, including a relapse, he was able to secure a job and complete the terms of his agreement with the court.

Specialty Courts are problem-solving court sessions which provide court-supervised probation and mandated treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues underlying criminal behavior. Veterans Court and Drug Court are two of the four specialty courts in Massachusetts. Homeless Court and Mental Health Court programs also provide tailored services to high-risk populations. The goal is to reduce recidivism and increase the effectiveness of the court system by addressing root causes for criminal behaviors.

Boston Bar Association President Lisa Arrowood, after sitting in on the graduation sessions in Drug Court and Veterans Court, said she was inspired not only by the profound impact the program had on the lives of the graduates, but on its potential to meaningfully tackle complex issues that lead individuals to committing crimes.

“It is the first time for many of these people that they are in court and when something good is happening to them. I looked around and thought that this is what they need – treatment, not incarceration,” Arrowood said. “I believe specialty courts are highly valuable and I am grateful to my former colleague Judge Georges and Judge Sinnott for giving me the opportunity to see them operate firsthand.”

Massachusetts Bar Association President Robert Harnais was also in attendance at the Drug Court Session, acting as the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony.