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Drug Court

About Drug Court in Rockland County
Felony Drug Court: Rockland County Court
Misdemeanor Drug Court: Orangetown Justice Court

What is a Drug Court?

A Drug Court which began in Clarkstown and is now located in Rockland County, is a specially designated Court in which a range of services and sanctions are utilized to reduce drug abuse and recidivism among non-violent, drug-addicted offenders. Drug Court programs bring the full weight of intervenors (the judge, probation officers, correctional and law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, defense counsel, drug-testing personnel, rehabilitation and treatment specialists, educators, etc.) to bear, forcing the offender to deal with his or her drug abuse problem or suffer the consequences.

What Makes Drug Court Different From Other Courts?

Drug Courts represent a partnership between the criminal justice field, the substance abuse treatment field, and other rehabilitative services. This is an alternative team approach to dealing with non-violent drug-addicted offenders. It is built upon the understanding that these offenders are often caught in a cycle of addiction and require treatment for their addiction. Drug Courts become a critical point at which service agencies converge to ensure the best results in changing the lives of drug-addicted offenders.

Why Were Drug Courts Created?

As the national drug epidemic escalated over the last two decades, no community was left untouched. Criminal justice systems became inundated with drug cases. Court dockets became overloaded with drug cases and drug involved offenders, leaving fewer resources available to address serious, violent felonies. Jails and prisons became rapidly overcrowded with large numbers of persons convicted for drug-related crimes, many of whom showed evidence of personally abusing drugs. It became increasingly clear that incarceration in and of itself does little to break the cycle of illegal drug use and crime, and that offenders sentenced to incarceration for drug related offenses exhibit a high rate of recidivism once they have served their time and are released. It was also clear that drug abuse treatment is demonstrably effective in reducing both drug addiction and drug-related crime among addicts. The drug court concept was developed and introduced in a number of jurisdictions throughout the United States as a federally-sponsored alternative to incarceration for this population.

How Does an Individual Get Involved in Drug Court

When non-violent, drug-addicted offenders are apprehended for committing drug-related misdemeanors or low-level drug-related felonies their cases are reviewed by a drug court team. The drug court team may be comprised of a Drug Court Judge, a representative from the District Attorney's office, a representative from the Public Defender's office, a representative from the Department of Probation, a substance abuse treatment specialist, a caseworker, and other rehabilitation service representative. Once the team determines that the person is an appropriate candidate for the program, the person is required to plead guilty to misdemeanors (NOTE: in the event of a low-level felony, a full allocution is taken by the judge in order to facilitate expedited prosecution in County Court if the client does not complete the program). The client waives the right to a speedy trial and trial by jury and commits to participate in the program for at least one year.

Who is an Appropriate Candidate for Drug Court?

Candidates must be deemed acceptable by the District Attorney and must (1) have no history of drug sales, (2) have no prior convictions for violent Crimes, (3) have no prior felony convictions, (4) be diagnosed as having a drug addiction, (5) not currently be on probation, and (6) be residents of Rockland County. Persons who do not fit all six criteria cannot participate in drug court and are remanded to a regular criminal court to face misdemeanor or felony charges.

How Does the Drug Court Work?

Under the careful and continuous supervision of the presiding judge and the drug court team, non-violent drug-addicted offenders willingly participate in an intensive program of treatment and education, mandatory periodic drug testing, and other rehabilitation services for at least one year. Drug court clients report to the drug court judge on a regular basis and he/she monitors the progress they are making in their respectively prescribed programs and responsibilities.

What Occurs Upon Completion?

Upon successful completion of the prescribed drug treatment, mandatory educational goals (G.E.D.), job training, family counseling, along with demonstrated non-use (through regular and sporadic urine testing), drug court clients are permitted to withdraw their plea of guilty at the misdemeanor level. Felonies are typically reduced to misdemeanors, and all charges are adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

What Happens if a Person Does Not Comply With the Program?

During the course of the person's participation in drug court, the presiding judge has the authority to penalize clients in the event of non-compliance. If it is reported that there has been a dirty urine, that a client has failed to attend 12-step group meetings (i.e. AA, NA), that a client has failed to attend treatment sessions, or has failed to cooperate regarding education or job training goals, the presiding judge has an array of sanctions ranging from all-day court appearances and community services to days or weeks in jail. Typically, three "slips" (or incidents of non-compliance) mandate expulsion from the program, sentencing on misdemeanors and simplified prosecution of felonies die to prior allocution and waiver of jury trial.

Are Drug Courts Really Effective and Beneficial?

Drug courts are being carefully evaluated and are proving to be effective in various ways. By selective processing cases, drug court relieves crowded criminal court dockets, reduce case processing time, and provide mechanisms for more creative and effective dispositions. Drug courts can also significantly lower recidivism. In several states, there have been documented 50-70% drops in recidivism over the past two-to-four years due to drug court programs. Most important, drug courts have helped hundreds of drug-addicted offenders take responsibilities for themselves and literally turn their lives around, becoming productive, civil-contributing and drug-free citizens.

When and How did Drug Court Come to Rockland?

In 1996, the Rockland Alliance for Prevention began working with a grassroots committee concerned about incarcerated drug addicts and their families. As a result, a proposal was developed and submitted, under the aegis of County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and in collaboration with the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and other Drug Dependence, to the U.S. Department of Justice in request of a small planning grant to explore the creation of a drug court in Rockland County. A $20,000 grant was awarded and a special team of criminal justice and treatment professionals from Rockland County was developed to participate in national training sessions and visit several established drug courts. The team which included Hon. Craig Johns (Judge), Jim Licata (Public Defender, Beth Bulhack (Senior Assistant District Attorney), Laurie Fogelman (Probation Department Supervisor), Fran Draft (Director of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services, Rockland County Mental Health Dept.), and Sandra Bernabei (Director of the Rockland Council on Alcoholism/Drug Dependence)-worked diligently to open the first drug court in January 1998, in the Town of Clarkstown. Also working with the team have been Gloria English (Chairperson of the Rockland Community Partnership), Lois Capeletti (Assistant Public Defender), Mimi Hoffman (Vocational Counselor for the Clarkstown Central School District's Incarcerated Youth Program), and Ron Figueroa (Director of the Rockland Alliance for Prevention). Judge Apotheker, Town of Haverstraw, now presides over the drug court, which is held on Thursdays. In order to expand the drug court beyond a single jurisdiction, Senator Joseph Holland sponsored legislation in the N.Y.S. Senate to allow other municipal courts across Rockland County to send candidates to this drug court, with companion legislation submitted to the N.Y.S. Assembly by Assemblyman Alex Gromack. The proposed legislation was voted into law and the Court now has county wide jurisdiction. The Court has recently been awarded a $300,000 implementation grant being utilized to operate a drug court office, and to facilitate drug testing, as well as to hire a drug court coordinator.

How can I Support the Rockland County Drug Court

You can share this information with others in your community and urge your local magistrates, law enforcement officials, attorneys, and community leaders to learn about and make use of the drug court. Encourage your local civic organizations to sponsor presentations about drug court to better inform the general public.