Program Goals/Target Population
The Suffolk County Drug Treatment Court is an alternative to incarceration for drug-abusing defendants facing a broad range of charges, including misdemeanors and felonies, in Suffolk County, New York. The drug court program provides substance abuse treatment and education, as well as case management and intensive supervision, for defendants arrested for drug and non-drug charges, as long as there is an underlying addiction problem.
Defendants charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses are eligible to participate in the drug court program. Defendants with prior felony convictions, as well as defendants who only use marijuana or who require methadone maintenance, can also be accepted into the program. Defendants are ineligible to participate if they are charged with a felony-level drug sale or charged for the most severe A–1 and A–2 level drug felonies.
Following arraignment, staff from the Division of Community Mental Hygiene/Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (DCMH/ASAS) screen potential participants for addiction and treatment readiness. The drug court program does not accept defendants that are only addicted to alcohol; participants must demonstrate a drug addiction problem. If the clinical assessment shows a defendant is eligible for the program, they are given the option to enter. Defendants who choose not to participate continue through the normal criminal justice process. Those who are eligible and decide to participate plead guilty to the charges and immediately become program participants.
Program Components/Key Personnel
The Suffolk County Drug Treatment court uses a postplea model, which means participants plead guilty to an eligible charge before beginning the program. Upon entering the program, participants agree to a fixed jail or prison sentence that is imposed in the event of drug court failure. For example, participants charged with misdemeanors are generally given a 6-month alternative sentence, while participants charged with felonies are given a 1-year jail alternative sentence. Upon graduation, misdemeanor charges are dismissed or reduced to a violation, while felony charges are reduced to a misdemeanor. The alternative sentence length is only changed in the event of a new arrest or warrant issued during drug court participation, which may lead to a longer sentence.
All drug court participants agree to the same treatment mandates. They agree to at least 12 months of participation in the program, with at least 6 months of that time spent drug free. There are no formalized phases of treatment through which participants must progress to successfully complete the program. Rather, participants are assigned to one of five treatment modalities, which can range from the most restrictive residential assignment to the least restrictive, once-a-week outpatient assignment. Treatment assignment is based in part on the DCMH/ASAS assessment, as well as several other factors, such as drug use and treatment history, availability of a drug- and alcohol-free home environment, employment status, and the existence of support networks for participants. All participants are usually initially assigned to outpatient treatment. More restrictive inpatient treatment is reserved for participants that fail to follow the program or treatment requirements. Similar to other drug courts, as the participants in the Suffolk Drug Treatment Court meet the goals and requirements of the program, the level of treatment supervision may be diminished.
Probation officers (POs) provide case management services to participants assigned to outpatient treatment. Case managers from Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime (TASC), a nonprofit agency used by other drug courts in New York State, monitors participants assigned to inpatient treatment. POs meet regularly with participants to track their progress, coordinate services, and administer a urinalysis to test for drug use. POs also visit participants at home and recommend changes to a participant’s treatment modality when necessary. POs do not play a therapeutic role. Rather, they encourage participants when they are in compliance, or take on a more disciplinary role when participants are noncompliant.
In addition to meeting regularly with their case managers, program participants are also required to appear before the drug court judge. During court appearances, the judge engages participants in a conversation about their progress. Case managers are also present during the proceedings and report to the judge on participants’ treatment accomplishments or problems. The case managers also inform the judge about the results of the drug screening taken upon arrival to the courthouse.
The drug court uses a system of rewards and sanctions for compliant and noncompliant behavior. Rewards and sanctions for participants are decided on a case-by-case basis, based on a participant’s individual needs and background. Compliant behavior of program participants can be rewarded by reduced court appearances. Unlike other drug court programs, there is no formalized sanctions schedule for noncompliant behavior. Sanctions can include additional court appearances and increased treatment levels. There is also always the risk of jail time.
To graduate, participants must meet treatment requirements as well as participate in a constructive activity outside of treatment, such as employment, school, training, or volunteering. Participants who fail the program usually do so because of persistent noncompliance, a new arrest, or by voluntarily opting out. In the event of program failure, the jail or prison sentence is imposed and the case is returned to the usual criminal justice proceedings in the narcotics part of court.