Massachusetts Mental Health Court Serves As Alternative To Jail Time

By Beth Leipholtz 04/08/19
The Recovery with Justice program was established by a local judge who believes jail is not always the answer.
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Massachusetts Mental Health Court

Nearly one-fifth of prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This fact has pushed one Massachusetts judge to take action. 

Kathleen Coffey, a judge in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, is hoping to change the way these individuals receive treatment through a program called Recovery with Justice.  

Coffey, who serves as the Specialty Courts Director for the Boston Municipal Court, created the program hoping to help those with mental health and other developmental disorders with an alternative to jail time. 

“Many people end up in the criminal justice system because other systems have failed them and the social safety net has failed them,” Coffey told Boston 25 News. "Often times, mental illness has not been flagged, or has not been identified as a contributing factor.” 

According to the mental health court's official webpage, the program “is a specialized court session that helps defendants maintain stability, achieve recovery and avoid incarceration by providing intensive social services and mental health treatment.”

Those in the program must take part in community-based treatment for at least three months and will be reviewed by a court team. In each case, a probation officer works alongside a mental health clinician to identify the needs of each individual. Based on those needs, a specific plan is created. This plan may include treatment referrals and opportunities for housing, education and employment. 

The recipient of one such plan, Mario Torres, tells Boston 25 News that he has been in and out of jail for a total of 20 to 25 years throughout his life. He says that going to mental health court is a way of talking through his struggles, almost like therapy. 

“Judge Coffey is pretty understanding about my addiction,” Torres said. “I had a drug problem in my past… constantly into trouble and getting arrested.” 

“I look back and I have thrown my life out the window,” he added.

Torres hopes that being a part of Recovery with Justice will help him get his life on track for good.

“I want to be a productive member to society,” Torres said.

Throughout Massachusetts, Boston 25 News reports, there are currently seven mental health courts. At the one in West Roxbury, more than 200 people have been admitted.

“We are keeping good people out of jail and within the community, recognizing that is what the court system is supposed to do,” Coffey said. “We are supposed to be here to help people.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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