The Queens Treatment Court (QTC) is a drug court program for first-time nonviolent felony drug offenders who are arrested in Queens County, New York. The court seeks to reduce recidivism among persistent drug offenders with a history of substance abuse by providing them with drug or alcohol treatment services. The mission of QTC is to provide offenders with the tools necessary for long-term sobriety, using court-supervised treatment and case management services as an alternative to incarceration.
Defendants are paper eligible for QTC if they are arrested on drug felony charges but do not have a prior felony conviction or a prior violent misdemeanor conviction. The most serious (A–1 and A–2) felony drug charges are excluded. Potential eligible cases are screened at arraignment by an Assistant District Attorney (ADA).
A case manager from the Treatment Alternative for Safer Community (TASC), an independent agency used for case management services by many court-mandated treatment programs in New York City, performs a clinical assessment of paper-eligible defendants. Cases may be rejected if the assessment finds that defendants do not need drug treatment, if defendants refuse the treatment plan, or if defendants appear to have a co-occurring mental illness. TASC does, however, see current illegal drug use, even at low levels, as a potential gateway to future addictive behavior. Therefore, at-risk defendants who currently use illegal drugs but may not yet be an addict are eligible even if drug use is infrequent, such as three times per week or even just one or two times per month. If a defendant is found to be eligible based on the clinical assessment, they plead guilty to the drug charge and enter the drug court program.
The QTC uses a postplea adjudication model, which means defendants plead guilty to an eligible drug charge before participating in the program. A standard formula is used by the court to determine the severity of the top charge in the plea agreement. Participants also agree to a sentence of incarceration that is served if they fail out of the program and treatment is not completed. Typical sentences can range from 1 to 3 years, depending on the individual’s criminal history.
After being accepted into the program, all participants must agree to the same treatment mandate, which requires at least 12 months of participation in QTC, divided into three phases of treatment. Each phase of treatment requires 4 consecutive sanctionless months before participants can move on to the next phase. The program does not require all counted time in each phase be drug free; rather, the emphasis is on sanctionless time. This means that if the court decides not to sanction a particular infraction, such as a positive urine test, the participant will not lose time.
QTC participants are also required to appear in drug court each week for the 1st month of the program, which is gradually downgraded to an appearance every 2 weeks, then every 4 weeks. Usually by phase 2 of treatment, participants report to court on a monthly basis. During court appearances, the judge will ask participants about their progress in treatment and any problems they may be having. Judges will impose sanctions on participants that are not complying with the treatment mandate.
Case managers develop an appropriate treatment plan for each participant, based on the duration and frequency of drug use, primary drug of choice, living situation, family support, and criminal history. Participants are referred to one of more than 40 community-based treatment programs spanning all modalities (such as residential, short-term rehabilitation, and intensive outpatient). The treatment plan also includes requirements for regular drug and alcohol testing, medical screening, attendance at educational or vocational programs, and participation in self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (or NA). While in treatment, participants also set goals to improve other parts of their lives, such as education, employment, and reconnecting with family.
In the event a participant is not in compliance with program requirements or is arrested for a new charge, QTC has a formal sanctions schedule, although the schedule is more advisory, and drug court judges frequently make case-by-base decisions. A new felony arrest will always result in failure from the program, as will repeated noncompliance or opting out.
The QTC began through the collaboration of the Queen’s District Attorney’s Office, the Legal Aid Society, the Queens County Supreme Court, the New York State Unified Court System, and the Office of the Chief Administrative Judge of New York City in response to the increasing percentage of first-time drug felony cases that accounted for criminal court arraignments in Queens.
TASC performs all of the case management functions, including assessment, treatment matching, and ongoing monitoring. The QTC resource coordinator is crucial in maintaining interstaff coordination of the program. Every morning, the resource coordinator meets with the TASC case managers to review the court calendar and discuss problems with any of the program participants. The resource coordinator also meets with the judge to review the calendar and make decisions on treatment promotions and sanctions.
The drug court team additionally includes the project director, the judge, the judge’s law clerk, the ADA, and defense attorneys. This team, along with the TASC case managers and resource coordinator, meets every week to focus on a select number of problem cases and to discuss any outstanding programmatic issues.
This program is different from the Queens Misdemeanor Treatment Court, which focuses on providing treatment services for nonfelony (misdemeanor) drug offenders.