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Justice, Duty, Honor

Drug Treatment Court

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” – Abraham Lincoln

drug-treatment-court“It’s about Courage” said Father Peter G. Young of 820 River Street and Father Peter Young Industries, one of the first upstate treatment programs in New York, as he receives recognition, thanks and praise for his work in support of treatment as an alternative to incarceration by the District Attorney Murphy.Presiding Judge Jerry J. Scarano looks on. Father Young has been extraordinarily successful with the legislature in promoting a number of rehabilitation and re-entry programs including transitional services, the “Road to Recovery”program and 820 River Street to help people overcome their addictions.

Current enrollment:

  • 38 actively participate in Drug Treatment Court (DTC).
  • 8 are enrolled in Misdemeanor Drug Treatment Court (mDTC).

Historically:

  • 181 graduates in total, 95 from DTC, 51 from the former Road to Recovery program, 20 from mDTC & 15 from Judicial Diversion.
  • More than 695 people have screened for participation.

DANIEL J. KOPACHAssistant District Attorney Daniel J. Kopach handles the drug treatment courts in Saratoga County. The Three programs available are Felony Drug Treatment Court, Misdemeanor Drug Treatment Court and the Road to Recovery, for second time, non violent felony offenders who are addicts.

Community safety, punishment and deterrence are three traditional theories behind prosecution, but there are many non-violent crimes for which prison, jail or incarceration may not be the appropriate outcome. Rather, such instances can be viewed as an opportunity to change aberrant behavior. Crimes of addiction, such as non-violent felonies and low grade misdemeanors, may qualify for a variety of alternative sentencing operations, including Drug Treatment Court, both at the misdemeanor and felony levels, Family Treatment Court, and The Road to Recovery Program.

Drug Treatment Court

The Saratoga County Felony Drug Treatment Court (DTC) began in March 2003. Under this program, an offender is convicted of a non-violent felony and placed on a five (5) year term of probation. One of the conditions of probation is to participate in DTC, which requires weekly appearances before the County Court judge and random drug screens, among other requirements, to monitor compliance in treatment. By entering the program, the participant can often avoid jail, but agrees to change their life and further, that termination from the program will lead to incarceration in a state correctional facility.

The program’s motto can be summed up in three key phrases:

  • Show Up: Without weekly appearances before the Court and your peers in DTC, very little progress can be made to effectuate change in your life. Responsibility begins with showing up.
  • Try Hard: Changing the thought processes and behaviors that have led you into this trouble will not be easy. DTC is designed to help you, but the change must come from within each participant.
  • Be Honest: Addicts, by their very nature, lie to themselves and everyone around them. No one wants to be addicted to any substance, legal or illegal. Regardless of how it began and whatever led you down this path, you must be honest with yourself to address what needs to be changed.

Changing one’s life can be more difficult than simply serving time, but the DTC staff provides support to give the participant the best shot that they will ever have at overcoming their addiction. The County Court Judge, a Case Manager, an Assistant District Attorney, an Assistant Public Defender and a Probation Officer work with the participant to guide them through the process of recovery and abstinence, teaching and reinforcing life skills, in the hopes that the participant will maintain a drug and crime free life as a contributing member of society, no longer involved with the criminal justice system. While not all successfully complete the program, the results are certainly encouraging, with a graduation rate of more than 75% and a recidivism rate of graduates at less than 10%, well below the general recidivism rate.

Road to Recovery

nc-courtsBuilding off the success of Drug Treatment Court statewide, the Road to Recovery (RtR) program was developed by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to target second felony offenders whose offenses were substance abuse driven. Saratoga County was chosen to participate in a second pilot group of counties and commenced operation in August 2004.

Through several models, non-violent second felony offenders are screened for the program and, if approved, are required to spend at least six (6) months in an intensive residential treatment community, such as Daytop Village or Hospitality House. While difficult, this experience gives the participant time to reflect and to discover why they make the destructive decisions that have led to these consequences and to make behavioral changes. Upon successful completion of this phase of treatment, the participant is transitioned to a halfway house residence in Saratoga County and enrolled in intensive outpatient treatment. This phase will last at least three (3) months, as the participant begins to apply the lessons learned in the residential phase to pressures of the outside world, while still in a structured living environment. Upon successful completion of the halfway house phase, the participant will be allowed to move into an approved residence and will continue outpatient treatment for another three (3) months, to support them in maintaining their recovery while being a productive member of society. In the Saratoga County Road to Recovery program, upon leaving the intensive residential phase and residing at the halfway house, many participants are required to join the Drug Treatment Court and report weekly to the County Court judge to monitor their compliance.

Misdemeanor Drug Treatment Court (mDTC)

Building off the success of the felony Drug Treatment Court and Road to Recovery, a new Misdemeanor Drug Treatment Court was launched in October 2006, targeting offenders before they are convicted of felonies. The hope is that if offenders are enrolled in a program while relatively early into their substance driven criminal activity, years of hardship can be avoided, e.g. further criminal involvement, family dissolution, the burden on taxpayers and the obvious risks to public safety. Again, this is not an easy process, but given the success of DTC and RtR, we are hopeful of its promise.

Conclusion

Addiction knows no gender, age, ethnicity or economic background. Everyone knows someone who has struggled with substance abuse. Prior to these Alternatives to Incarceration programs, the criminal justice system often tried to incarcerate such offenders for longer and longer periods of time. The harsh lesson that was learned is that unless the offenders are taught a different way to live and to cope with the challenges that all of us face, upon their release from custody, they will likely engage in the same destructive behaviors, causing more pain to themselves, their families and the community at large. Generations of offenders have come through the criminal justice system in this fashion and these Alternatives to Incarceration programs are an effort to try something new and which seem to be working.

 

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