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Charlestown drug court opens to offer treatment as alternative to prison

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  May 22, 2013 11:40 AM

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A new drug court designed to assist individuals on probation who suffer with chronic substance abuse is now up and running in Charlestown.

The Charlestown Addiction Recovery Treatment Program, or CHART, was established by Charlestown Division of the Boston Municipal Court and its Probation Department, in partnership with the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition.

The program offers specialized court sessions that allow people on probation who struggle with substance abuse to participate in drug treatment instead of going to prison.

CHART, modeled after the drug court in Chelsea, sentences those who choose to participate to intensive court supervision, mandatory drug testing, substance-abuse treatment, and other social services. It is one of 19 operating drug courts throughout the state.

“It is a proactive response to the needs and desires of the community at large. Encouraging pro social behavior and the reduction of recidivism are the heart of probation’s goals. CHART will aid in this endeavor,” Chief Probation Officer Michelle Williams said in a statement.

A US Department of Justice drug court study found that, when appropriately
implemented, drug courts can reduce recidivism, decrease the chances of future drug use, and promote positive cost-saving outcomes.

The Charlestown program receives referrals from defendants, their attorneys, the district attorney, and the probation department. A third party screens and evaluates the candidates before they are enrolled in the highly structured program that lasts for a minimum of 18 months.

Individuals convicted of arson, sex offenses or violent crimes within the past five years are not eligible.

Williams coordinated with community substance abuse providers, the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition to establish CHART after a review of Charlestown Court House's probation caseload found that 90 percent of offenders were on probation for substance abuse-related crimes.

Williams said the drug court program is not a diversion program. It is, she said, an extension of the community's support of substance abuse treatment.

One of the first people to be sentenced to treatment by the Drug Court late last year is now clean, sober and employed, according to court and CHART officials.

CHART also works with Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition and MGH Center for Community Health Improvement to create a team approach to coordinate treatment plans, and perform community outreach.

Sate Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, who represents Charlestown and is the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and Charlestown’s Representative, praised the court and probation officials for bringing the program to the neighborhood, and the local organizations supporting program for saving lives.

“I will continue to support the CHART program because I believe it creates an incredible opportunity for those struggling with addiction to avoid the added burden of being involved in the criminal justice system as an offender when it is in our collective best interest that they receive treatment," O'Flaherty said in a statement. "I commend the staff of the court, the probation officers and the Presiding Judge for having the foresight to bring this program to Charlestown.

E-mail Kaiser at Johanna.yourtown@gmail.com. For more news about your city, town, neighborhood, or campus, visit boston.com’s Your Town homepage.

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