Working with People Who are Justice-Involved

People with substance use disorders have high rates of justice involvement. For those working in the addictions field, it is important to understand the justice system. For those who are working within the justice system, it is important to understand the impact of substance use and addictions on individuals and families, as well as the continuum of care.

Important Considerations

  • There are many criminogenic factors that need to be addressed when working with justice involved clients.
  • Recently released individuals may struggle to re-connect with their community due to stigma about formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • It is important to address any co-occurring mental and physical health concerns (see BSAS Practice Guidance Ensuring Effective Treatment for Persons with Co-Occurring Disorders and BSAS Principles of Care).
  • In the justice system, emotional and personal distance are often necessary for protection or survival. This can make it difficult to engage in recovery activities, where relationship and honesty are vital to progress.
  • Clients come into contact with various systems that have different rules and norms. Navigating these differences can be challenging, and clients will require support and guidance in doing so.

In addition to the information below, Resources in the Library (left sidebar) have additional phone numbers, links to documents, and contact information for organizations that provide services for those involved with the justice system and people who work with them.


Summary of the Justice system

In Massachusetts, at any given moment (as of 2015) there are:

  • Approximately 86,000 people under probation supervision
  • 10,000+ people in a Department of Correction facility
  • 8,000+ parolees under parole supervision by the Parole Board.
  • 1000+ youth committed to the care of the Department of Youth Services, with an additional approximately 2500 youth served by the Department in their communities

An individual can be involved with the justice system in many ways. For example one may:

  • Be a victim, witness or suspect in a crime
  • Be incarcerated, on probation or parole
  • Be civilly committed to treatment via Section 35
  • Be a youth committed to the care of the Department of Youth Services
  • Take court-mandated classes

Depending on whether the charge is civil or criminal, state or federal, the process and elements of the system are different.

Massachusetts Courts

1. Supreme Judicial Court

2. Appeals Court

3A. Trial Courts

Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court, Land Court, and Probate and Family Court

(based on subject matter and geographic jurisdiction; either Criminal or Civil)

3B. Specialty Courts

Adult & Juvenile Drug courts

Mental Health courts

Veterans’ Treatment courts

Homeless courts

Family Resolution court (to be implemented)


Massachusetts provides a Court System Organization Chart which includes administrative entities, probation and parole offices as well as courts.

Justice Facilities

Women and men are housed separately. Youth and adults are approached differently in many ways throughout the system. Justice facilities vary in security level.

  • County Jails hold people awaiting trial
  • County Houses of Correction hold people whose sentences are under two and a half years
  • State and Federal prisons hold people whose sentences are longer
  • The Department of Youth Services has over 60 residential programs, separate facilities for girls and boys, which range in security level


Justice System Continuum


  • It is important to have discussions with clients about the potential legal ramifications of their substance use. A commonly used lay reference on drug laws is available through AVVO.
  • Jail Diversion Programs aim to reduce or eliminate
    • criminal charges by redirecting them from the criminal justice system to community based treatment and supports.
    • the time people with mental health and substance use disorders spend incarcerated


  • Drivers Alcohol Education (DAE)
  • Second Offender Aftercare (SOA)
  • Batterers
  • "John School" (a court-ordered sex-buyer education program intended to decrease demand for prostitution)
  • Anger management
  • Check out the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline in order to find services near you.

Specialty courts (such as juvenile, mental health, drug, and veterans courts)

  • Specialty Courts are problem-solving court sessions which provide court-supervised probation and treatment focused on treating the mental health or substance use issues that often lead to criminal behavior.
  • Visit for more information on specialty courts within the Massachusetts Court System.


  • Treatment can encompass many levels of care (for example: assessments, groups, individual counseling, psycho-education, 12 step meetings). See the DOC Program Description Booklet for more details.
  • Some correctional facilities are exploring or implementing Medication Assisted Treatment and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address opioid addictions.
  • The Department of Youth Services has a spectrum of substance use and addiction services.

Community Supervision

  • Probation –State and Federal (instead of, or before, jail/prison)
  • Parole – administration is independent from DOC and HOC (after partical prison sentences served)
  • Home or area confinement - when on electronic/GPS monitoring
  • Youth release to home community with supervision
  • Service to provide restitution to a victim

Re-entry to Community

  • A planned and practiced transition to community is important; many facilities have a pre-release program available
  • People on parole live in the community under the supervision of a Parole Officer. Parole can be given before completion of a sentence.
  • Particularly vital are connections to housing, health care, insurance and work;
    • A criminal record (CORI in Massachusetts) can make it more difficult to find a job and housing
    • Prospective employers should be made aware that the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit can provide between $1200 and $9600 to private employers who employ qualifying ex-felons
  • See state resources at:
  • Home or area confinement - when on electronic/GPS monitoring
  • Youth release to home community with supervision

Representation, Case Management, Advocacy

Youth are assigned case managers, adults on parole or probation are assigned officers who supervise them. Attorneys (lawyers) can represent individuals and families as they engage with the justice system. There are victim advocates in both the youth and adult systems. There are advocacy groups for people involved in the justice system, from those who have been victims to those who have been convicted of crimes.

Learn More:

This NIDA Note "Court-Mandated Treatment Works as Well as Voluntary" ( summarizes a 2006 article, with graphic, demonstrating that court-mandated treatment works as well as voluntary treatment with regard to abstinence.

This booklet describes all the programs the Department of Corrections runs in the system, including substance use and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery support activities. It also lists locations.

 DOC program-booklet.pdf

This booklet describes the treatment principles and research findings that have particular relevance to the criminal justice community and to treatment professionals working with drug abusing offenders. It is divided into three main sections:

1. research findings on addicted offenders distilled into 13 essential principles,

2. a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about drug abuse treatment for those involved with the criminal justice system (, and

3. a resource section that provides Web sites for additional information.

This booklet is a complement to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)'s "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide" (

 Prin of SA Tx for CJ Pops NIDA.pdf

This SAMHSA Treatment Improvement Protocol is available as a webpage:

This SAMHSA Treatment Improvement Protocol is currently available as a webpage:

This SAMHSA Treatment Improvement Protocol is available as a webpage:

This Treatment Improvement Protocol is also available as a webpage at

 TIP 44 - SA Tx for Adults in the CJ System.pdf

The National Institute of Corrections ( is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. Many of its training resources are also applicable to the general public who are involved with the justice system, for example "How to explain the arrest of a parent to a child," which, while aimed at police personnel, applies to anyone working with the child of an incarcerated parent.

NICIC provides training, technical assistance, information services, and policy/program development assistance to federal, state, and local corrections agencies. It also awards funds to support its program initiatives, and provides leadership to influence correctional policies, practices, and operations nationwide in areas of emerging interest and concern to correctional executives and practitioners as well as public policymakers.