Revolutionizing Treatment Courts: The Impact and Recognition of Judge Charles Burns

RISE23, the globally recognized conference on addiction, mental health, and justice reform, was the setting for a remarkable ceremony on June 29. The event spotlighted the ground-breaking efforts of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Charles Burns, whose transformative approach to treatment courts earned him induction into the Stanley Goldstein Treatment Court Hall of Fame.

The accolade, named after the inaugural drug court judge in the nation, is presented by All Rise – a pioneering organization that champions treatment courts. It was Judge Karen Freeman-Wilson (ret.), the outgoing board chair of All Rise, who presented the honor to Judge Burns.

Freeman-Wilson lauded Judge Burns as not only a leader but a mentor and visionary. His leadership over the Rehabilitative Alternative Probation (RAP) and Woman’s Rehabilitative Alternative Probation (WRAP) treatment courts has led them to national recognition by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Burns’ innovative solutions addressing equity and inclusion, trauma-informed care, medication for opioid use disorders, employment assistance, and criminal record relief have all significantly improved program outcomes.

In a gracious acceptance speech, Judge Burns shifted the spotlight to the true heroes of this story: the program participants bravely addressing their substance use. He also expressed heartfelt gratitude to his dedicated drug court team and partners for their relentless commitment to transforming lives.

Post-award, Judge Burns shed light on the housing issues faced by treatment court participants during a panel discussion. Together with Melissa Fitzgerald, All Rise Director of Strategic Engagement, Johnny Washington, a housing voucher recipient, and Sarah Kaufman, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, he emphasized his program’s inventive solutions.

The Cook County treatment court, known as the RAP Program, has been offering housing solutions since 2018 in partnership with the Cook County Housing Authority. The successful housing of 16 individuals so far stands as a testament to the program’s effectiveness and it’s seen as a national model.

Judge Burns’ (W)RAP Program is a beacon of hope for individuals who have committed non-violent drug-related offenses, offering an alternative sentencing approach. It provides crucial support, services, and accountability to participants, helping them transition into the community as changed individuals. Partnerships with community agencies allow participants to access housing, career services, mental health counseling, and trauma-informed treatment. Graduates of the program see their probation ended satisfactorily, their cases dismissed, and their convictions expunged.

Founded as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) in 1994, All Rise has tirelessly worked to advance justice system responses to substance use and mental health disorders. The organization impacts every stage of the justice system and has been instrumental in justice system transformation for nearly three decades.