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Program Profile: Suffolk County (NY) Drug Treatment Court

Evidence Rating: Effective - One study Effective - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 10, 2011

Program Summary

An alternative to incarceration for drug-abusing defendants facing a broad range of charges. The drug court program provides substance abuse treatment and education, as well as case management and intensive supervision. The program is rated Effective. The treatment court reduced recidivism rates following arrest up to 3 years. For postprogram recidivism, the study found the comparison group recidivated at 32 percent compared to 23 percent of the drug court participants.

Program Description

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.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

Recidivism Following Arrest

Rempel and colleagues (2003) found that the Suffolk County Drug Treatment Court had a substantial impact on reducing recidivism rates up to 3 years. After 1 year, 20 percent of drug court participants had an arrest that led to a new conviction, compared to 41 percent of the comparison group. After 2 years, 32 percent of participants had a new conviction, compared to 54 percent of comparison defendants. By 3 years, the difference was 40 percent, versus 65 percent. After 3 years, the drug court program reduced recidivism by 38 percent relative to the initial comparison group level.


Not only were comparison group members more likely to recidivate, but there were also nearly twice as many total recidivist convictions after 3 years. Comparison group members also recidivated more quickly. Comparison defendants that recidivated averaged 329 days from initial arrest to first rearrest leading to a conviction. Program participants that recidivated averaged 410 crime-free days.


Multivariate analysis confirmed the impact of the drug court program on recidivism rates. Drug court participants were significantly less likely to recidivate at 2 and 3 years postarrest. Survival analysis showed that in the 1st month after the initial arrest, the difference between participants and comparison group members who had not yet been rearrested was 2.5 percent. By 18 months, the difference grew to 25 percent. After 3 years, 60 percent of the drug court group had survived (not been rearrested), compared to only 35 percent of the comparison group.


Postprogram Recidivism

Within a year of exiting the criminal justice system, 32 percent of the comparison group recidivated, compared to 23 percent of drug court participants that recidivated during this time. This represents a 28 percent reduction in recidivism relative to the comparison group level. Drug court participants were significantly less likely to recidivate when all new charges are considered. However, they were not significantly less likely to be reconvicted of a new felony or drug charge, although they were less likely to be reconvicted of a misdemeanor charge.


Drug court failures were significantly more likely than drug court graduates to recidivate. Failures were at least three times more likely than graduates to be reconvicted on all three types of crimes (felony, misdemeanor, and drug-related). In addition, drug court failures were somewhat more likely to recidivate than comparison group members.


Multivariate analysis found, however, that when controlling for any differences between the groups, drug court participation was not a significant predictor of reconviction within 1 year postprogram. The odds ratio in this analysis indicates odds of recidivism that are 0.651 times lower for drug court participants as opposed to comparison defendants; however, the odds ratio did not reach significance.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Rempel and colleagues (2003) used a quasi-experimental design to compare the recidivism rates of participants in the Suffolk County (NY) Drug Treatment Court to the recidivism rates of defendants arrested on similar charges in the year before the drug court opened (in September 1996).


The drug court group included 234 program participants who had at least 2 years of postarrest recidivism data available for analysis. Even though the drug treatment court program accepts defendants with non-drug charges, these participants were not included in the sample. The initial comparison group included 676 defendants arrested in the year preceding the opening of the court who had top charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (misdemeanor) or criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree (felony). Seventy percent of the comparison group had been arrested for a misdemeanor and 30 percent had been arrested for a felony.


A propensity score matching process was used to eliminate or reduce the differences between the drug court group and comparison group. The matching process resulted in 232 drug court participants matched to 169 comparison defendants. The drug court group was 70 percent male, and 59 percent white, 30 percent African American, and 11 percent Hispanic/“other,” with an average age of 29.5 years. The comparison group was 76 percent male, and 54 percent white, 35 percent African American, and 11 percent Hispanic/“other,” with an average age of 29.3 years. There were no significant differences between the groups, except on one variable: the drug court group was less likely to have a prior misdemeanor conviction on their past record.


Recidivism data was obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The data set provided comprehensive criminal record information, including criminal history and recidivism, as of June 30, 2002. Recidivism was defined as a new arrest that leads to conviction. The analysis looked at recidivism over postarrest and postprogram time periods. The postarrest time period begins at the time of the arrest that either led to drug court participation or comparison group membership. The postprogram period begins at different starting points for study participants: For drug court graduates, the postprogram period begins on the graduation date. For drug court failures, the period begins on the estimated release date from jail or prison. For comparison group members, the period begins on the estimated release date (or, if there was no incarceration sentence, on the disposition date).


There were, however, methodological limitations when examining recidivism over the postprogram time period: a portion of the drug court group has not achieved the requisite year of postprogram time, for two reasons. First, it takes drug court participants 1 year to complete the program and another year of postprogram time before the analysis can be done. Second, program participants who fail are usually sentenced to 1 year in jail, and the postprogram count does not begin until their release. There are also a number of participants who had not reached final status (graduation or failure) as of the analysis date. Therefore, the final status of drug court participants in the impact sample was determined as of Nov. 3, 2002 (prior to the analysis date). For participants who had not yet graduated or failed as of this date, background characteristics were used to predict whether they were more likely to graduate or fail. This method was only used to impute graduation or failure status for 7 drug court participants (3 percent of the sample). The graduation rate was estimated at 66.4 percent, based on the known final status of 225 drug court participants (97 percent). Only 194 participants were available for the 1-year postprogram analysis (128 graduates and 66 failures).


The study used bivariate comparisons and multivariate analysis, including logistic regression, negative binomial analysis, and survival analysis. Over the postarrest period, the analysis examined the probability of at least one new conviction; the total number of new convictions; the probability of at least one new conviction for three types of charges (felony, misdemeanor, and drug-related); the specific conviction charges in the first reconviction; the number of crime-free days prior to the first rearrest that led to a conviction; and survival patterns over the total time period. Over the postprogram period, the analysis looked at the probability of at least one new conviction and the probability of at least one new conviction for each of three types of charges (felony, misdemeanor, and drug-related).
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Rempel, Michael, Dana Fox–Kralstein, Amanda Cissner, Robyn Cohen, Melissa Labriola, Donald Farole, Ann Bader, and Michael Magnani. 2003. The New York State Adult Drug Court Evaluation: Policies, Participants, and Impacts. New York, N.Y.: Center for Court Innovations, 197–216.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Adult Drug Courts
Drug courts are specialized courts that combine drug treatment with the legal and moral authority of the court in an effort to break the cycle of drug use and drug related crime. The practice was rated Promising for reducing recidivism; Promising for reducing alcohol and drug-related offenses (with a 13 percent lower rate compared to nonparticipants); but No Effects for reducing multiple substance use.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Drug and alcohol offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
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Program Snapshot

Age: 16+

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Suburban

Setting (Delivery): Inpatient/Outpatient, Other Community Setting, Courts

Program Type: Alcohol and Drug Therapy/Treatment, Alternatives to Incarceration, Drug Court, Individual Therapy, Residential Treatment Center

Targeted Population: Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Campbell Collaboration

Program Director:
Edward Gialella
Project Director
Suffolk County Court
400 Carleton Avenue
Central Islip NY 11722
Phone: 631.853.5435
Fax: 631.853.7463

Michael Rempel
Center for Court Innovation
520 Eighth Avenue, 18th Floor
New York NY 10018
Phone: 212.397.3050