Health and Criminal Justice Program to assist in new Specialty Court Center of Excellence at UMass Medical School

November 10, 2014

Correctional health experts from the Health and Criminal Justice Program will serve as consultants to the newly created Specialty Court Center of Excellence, a partnership between UMass Medical School and the Massachusetts Trial Court that will focus on expanding specialty courts across the state.

The Center will be located at UMass Medical School and be led by Ira K. Packer, PhD, a clinical professor of psychiatry. It will focus on research and evaluation, training, legal research and support, marketing and outreach.

The Center will work with the Trial Court to establish adult and juvenile specialty court sessions, develop training for specialty court staff and judges, and assist with the specialty court certification process. Specialty courts are designed to help defendants with mental health needs, substance abuse or other issues receive treatment and services to address their needs and prevent future criminal justice involvement.

“UMMS has a proven history of specializing in research and consultation on treatment for substance use and mental health issues, and in managing numerous federal and state grants,” Dr. Packer said in statement. “The Center will serve as the focal point for evidence-based and data-driven support of specialty courts, as well as a home for active, ongoing learning that can be shared across the court system.”

Leaders from the Health and Criminal Justice Program within the medical school’s Commonwealth Medicine division will assist the Center on a consulting basis. The program manages contracts that provide health services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ federal medical centers in Devens, Mass. and Butner, N.C., as well as its federal correctional institutions in Ray Brook, New York and Berlin, N.H. It also oversees the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, which works to advance the science and practice of health care as it relates to the criminal justice system.

“We’re confident that the experienced and talented team at UMMS will help us achieve our goal of doubling the number of specialty courts in Massachusetts by 2017. Together, we can set the standard for specialty courts statewide,” Chief Justice Paula M. Carey said in a statement.

Commonwealth Medicine will also lead stakeholder outreach and communications efforts, including the creation of a Center website.

“Joining forces with UMass Medical School is the next, vital step for the Trial Court to expand specialty courts,” said Court Administrator Harry Spence in a statement. “UMMS is an ideal partner for the Court: the school has a strong track record of community medicine, and its expertise in consulting on public health issues means that they can hit the ground running and maintain that momentum for us.”