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A Judge’s Quest for Healing: Judge Douglas Darnbrough’s Vision for a Compassionate Drug Court System

Written by Jimmy Rustling

Judge Douglas Darnbrough stands as a beacon of progress within the judicial landscape, championing a visionary approach to addressing drug offenses. With a career spanning decades, Douglas Darnbrough has not only presided over numerous cases but has also spearheaded a movement towards compassion and rehabilitation within the legal system.

Early Career and Inspiration

Background of Douglas Darnbrough

Before his public service, Douglas established the Douglas J. Darnbrough Law Offices, P.C. His practice encompassed diverse areas of law, including contracts, criminal defense, real estate,and tort litigation over 18 years. This extensive experience gave him a unique

perspective and a robust skill set to handle complex legal cases effectively. He handled an

array of criminal cases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Influence of personal experiences or encounters with the justice system

Douglas was an Assistant Clerk Magistrate at the Taunton District Court. Douglas efficiently

managed various legal proceedings, including civil motor vehicle infraction appeals, criminal

show cause hearings, and small claims trials. He demonstrated unwavering commitment by

assisting judges in the courtroom and offering legal decisions on the cases he heard.

During his time as an Assistant Clerk conducting show cause hearings ( prior to issuance of a criminal complaint), he was able to meet and understand the difficulties many people had with drugs and alcohol addiction.  Doug was able to resolve many cases outside of the courtroom to help people get back on their feet.

Governor Charlie Baker nominated Douglas Darnbrough as an Associate Justice of the District Court.

He oversaw a wide range of cases across Bristol, Plymouth, and Barnstable Counties. His

responsibilities included handling civil and criminal cases, including arraignments, pre-trials,

motions, and trials. Additionally, he provides valuable insights through decision-making on

evidentiary hearings and presided over mental health and restraining order hearings.

The inspiration behind his vision for a compassionate drug court system

In 2019, Douglas was named Presiding Justice of the New Bedford District Court, one of the

Commonwealth’s busiest courts. Douglas played a pivotal role in its growth and success. His responsibility was to manage the court overall while managing a caseload. He was

instrumental in creating the custody video session,  expansion of the Drug Court ( in which he

renamed it the Recovery Court), as well as the creation of the Court’s first mental health court in the region.

Through his leadership, the New Bedford District Court, the court’s backlog of cases was

reduced, and operations were streamlined for better access to justice. Judge Darnbrough

presided over many jury waived and jury trials encompassing civil and criminal cases.

Douglas’s  establishment of the Mental Health Court in New

Bedford District Court marked a significant development in the judicial landscape, underscoring his commitment to the community and the population it serves.

Understanding the Current System

Overview of the traditional punitive approach to drug offenses

Historically, the reaction to drug offenses has been marked by punitive actions aimed at deterrence via punishment. This approach usually involves confinement, fines, and other forms of punitive steps, with little stress placed on managing the underlying problems driving substance misuse. Many if not all of the Correction facilities have programs in which prisoners would attend if they wished.

Limitations and criticisms of the current system

Despite its majority, the standard punitive system for drug offenses has come under scrutiny for its weaknesses. Analysts argue that punitive standards fail to manage the root causes of substance misuse and addiction, perpetuating a cycle of recidivism and societal disadvantage. Moreover, imprisonment often aggravates existing social imbalances and disproportionately impacts marginalized societies.

Need for a shift toward a more compassionate and rehabilitative approach.

Determining the inadequacies of the existing method, there has been a growing agreement on the need for reform. Advocates for evolution argue that a compassionate and rehabilitative approach bears the legend of breaking the process of dependence and decreasing recidivism rates. By managing the underlying elements contributing to sense abuse, such as trauma, mental health problems, and socioeconomic differences, a more holistic technique to justice can be earned.

The Birth of a Vision

Moments of realization and reflection that led to his vision

During his tenure as a Magistrate and as a Judge, Judge Darnbrough’s perspective underwent a profound transformation. Witnessing firsthand the human toll of punitive measures on individuals grappling with substance abuse, he began to question the efficacy of the status quo. Through moments of introspection and reflection, Darnbrough realized that punitive approaches often exacerbated the very issues they sought to address, perpetuating a cycle of harm rather than facilitating healing.

New Bedford District Court had a Drug Court in place which was presided over by his predecessor.  Douglas wanted to continue the good valuable work that was given to the program.

Identifying the fundamental principles of a compassionate drug court system

Grounded in empathy and a deep understanding of the complexities of addiction, Darnbrough began to formulate his vision for a compassionate drug court system. Central to this vision were principles of rehabilitation, support, and accountability. Rather than merely punishing individuals for their transgressions, Darnbrough envisioned a system that offered pathways to recovery, addressing the underlying factors driving substance abuse while holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Implementing Change

Challenges faced in implementing a compassionate approach within the legal system

Implementing a compassionate drug court system posed numerous challenges for Douglas Darnbrough and his team. Resistance from within the legal establishment, entrenched punitive attitudes, and concerns about public perception were just a few of the obstacles they encountered. Additionally, securing the necessary resources and support to enact meaningful change presented its own set of challenges.

Strategies employed by Douglas Darnbrough to advocate for change

Despite the obstacles, Darnbrough remained undeterred in his pursuit of reform. Leveraging his position as a respected member of the judiciary, he used his platform to raise awareness about the shortcomings of the current system and the benefits of a compassionate approach. Through public speaking engagements, media appearances, and advocacy efforts, he sought to garner support for his vision among fellow judges, lawyers, and community stakeholders.

He advocated for more resources for his Recovery Court team and maintained consistency in how the program ran.

Addressing skepticism and resistance from within the legal system

Many of the cases that are in the Recovery Court program are referrals from criminal defense lawyers and probation officers. Some opponents may have found that the program was too intensive on the participants and their obligation was far more than typical probation.

Overcoming this resistance required patience, persuasion, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations. Douglas Darnbrough and his allies worked tirelessly to educate their colleagues about the benefits of a compassionate approach, emphasizing its potential to reduce recidivism and promote long-term community safety.

Judge Darnbrough’s team encompassed a coordinator, clinician, probation officer, prosecutor, and defense attorneys.   Douglas would have weekly meetings with the team to go over each participant’s progress and any issues that would arise.

Strategies for maintaining momentum and support for the compassionate drug court system

Judge Darnbrough prioritized data collection and analysis to demonstrate the effectiveness of the compassionate drug court model. He often ran records of graduates to determine if they had reoffended with a drug crime or other crime.  He found that that close to 85 percent of his graduates did not reoffend at all.

What Judge Darnbrough experienced is what the “model” dictates, that strong consistent supervision coupled with the ability to care and understand will promote a willingness for criminal defendants to change their patterns of behavior.

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About the author

Jimmy Rustling

Born at an early age, Jimmy Rustling has found solace and comfort knowing that his humble actions have made this multiverse a better place for every man, woman and child ever known to exist. Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes. When Jimmies are not being Rustled the kind Dr. enjoys being an amazing husband to his beautiful, soulmate; Anastasia, a Russian mail order bride of almost 2 months. Dr. Rustling also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.