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Judicial Attitudes Toward Drug Abuse & Alcohol Abuse: New York

Like most states, New York focuses significantly more of its resources on combating drug abuse and drug addiction than alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. In terms of criminal law, New York gives some addicts charged with drug crimes the chance to wipe their records clean after substance abuse treatment. However, the very best those charged with DUI can hope for is a reduced charge or sentence.

Drug Abuse

New York is currently in the process of reviewing and reforming its drug laws. In early 2009, a bi-partisan sentencing panel found that current drug diversion programs, such as DTAP (drug treatment alternative to prison) and drug courts are effective at combating recidivism in addicts and should be expanded to reach the entire population of New York. Further, the panel recommended the funding of more community-based drug treatment programs, along with implementing a system of clear sanctions for failure. The panel hopes that treatment programs will act as alternatives to incarceration and save prison space for high-risk offenders.

Some drug diversion and treatment models currently under consideration in New York include judicial diversion, which gives a judge discretion to place addicted, non-violent first and second offenders into treatment; court-approved drug abuse treatment (CADAT), judicial diversion with prosecutor approval, and a probation/jail program for first time class B drug felons instead of prison.

Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP)

The Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) program was started in 1990 by the Kings County District Attorney. The late 80's saw a dramatic increase in the number of crack addicts being sent to New York jails for drug related crimes, as many drug addicts resorted to non-violent crime to support their habits. This influx of non-violent criminals strained the already over-burdened prison system. The DTAP program was the first prosecution-run program to divert felony offenders to government-funded residential drug treatment. Today, it remains one of the few programs to offer residential treatment as opposed to, the often less effective, outpatient drug treatment.

To quality for DTAP, an individual must be a drug addict, have been arrested for a non-violent felony, and have been previously convicted of one or more non-violent felonies. Once accepted, the addict enters a plea of guilty to the charges and receives a deferred sentence in order to enter residential drug treatment for between 15 months and 2 years. If the addict successfully competes the substance abuse treatment program, the charges are dismissed. Failure to complete the program results in reinstatement of the original prison sentence.

As of May 2009, 2,696 addicts have been accepted into the DTAP program and 1,160 have completed it. It is estimated that this has saved taxpayers $46.4 million in incarceration costs. Further, participants of DTAP remain in substance abuse treatment longer than other residential treatment participants and are 67% less likely to return to prison than those who did not enter the treatment program.

Several of New York's district attorneys, and all district attorneys in New York City, now have Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) programs. In addition, all counties in New York have some form of Drug Court, which uses monitoring and the threat of incarceration to keep people in substance abuse treatment.

Drug Courts

Drug courts are similar to the drug treatment alternative to prison programs, but the details vary dramatically by county and, sometimes, even by location. Drug courts allow a judge to supervise the drug treatment of an addict in order to encourage the addict to stay out of jail and successfully complete treatment. As of 2009, there were 175 different drug courts in New York state. Some courts treat only felons, others treat only those charged with a misdemeanor. Failure to complete the drug treatment program will likely require the participant to serve time in jail or prison.

One such drug court located in Manhattan, the Manhattan Treatment Court (MTC), is for first-time felony offenders who face drug charges or drug abuse charges. Instead of serving a jail or probation sentence, the addict enters treatment (usually outpatient) and makes regular court appearances. The program lasts from 1 to 2 years.

All of New York's drug court programs share certain characteristics. For instance, older drug abusers are more likely to succeed in treatment. Those with heroin addiction or prior criminal convictions are more likely to abuse drugs in the future. All of the drug courts require regular drug testing, community based treatment, case management visits, and court appearances.

Drug courts in New York vary dramatically with regard to eligibility criteria, whether the program can be completed before entering a plea or after, sanctions for violations and consequences of completion or failure.

Shock Incarceration

Another unique drug treatment program currently operating in New York is the "shock incarceration" program, which has saved taxpayers approximately $1.3 billion over the last 20 years. The program acts as an alternative to prison for young adults under 35, providing a therapeutic environment with substance abuse treatment and academic education. The program is similar to other states' "boot camps" and participants are eligible for parole within three years after admission. The program places an emphasis on recovery, requiring addicts to spend 30% of their time in addiction treatment.

Alcohol Abuse

While New York has shown a trend toward using drug treatment to combat certain drug-related crime, it has not yet applied that same model to those charged with alcohol-related crime. The majority of alcohol abusers in New York enter the criminal justice system due to driving under the influence, or DUI. However, New York has no alcohol diversion program which would allow an alcoholic to enter treatment to avoid criminal charges. Instead, an alcoholic enters court-related treatment to, at the most, reduce a jail sentence or get his or her driver's license re-instated.

New York combines judicial sentencing and Department of Motor Vehicles programs in order to adjudicate DUI offenders. In general, a first-offense or second-offense DUI will not lead to jail time. Instead, the offender will lose his or her driver's license, be forced to attend alcohol education classes, and pay a fine. Those charged with DUI are required to complete an alcohol-abuse self-screening survey to help identify those who need more formal addiction screening. Those needing treatment, though, will have to pay for it themselves.

Millie Anne Cavanaugh is an attorney licensed to practice law in California & Massachusetts and is a former insurance defense lawyer. The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a solicitation for your business or as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without seeking independent legal advice.

Posted on May 19th, 2009
Posted in Articles

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