Suffolk County (NY) Drug Treatment Court

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.

Intervention ID

16 to 100


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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