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The Brooklyn Treatment Court links non-violent, substance-abusing defendants to drug treatment as an alternative to jail. Rather than send a defendant to treatment and await news of an often disappointing outcome typically a re-arrest the Court plays an on-going, active role in treatment. Participants return frequently to Court to report on their progress and provide urine samples. The judge uses the Court's coercive power to keep participants on track, rewarding good behavior and punishing, often with jail time, bad behavior. To support defendants in treatment, the Court offers a range of social services on-site, including Health Department screenings, primary medical care, mental health screenings and counseling. In addition, defendants are required to complete a community service requirement, paying back the community they have harmed through their addiction.

HOW IT WORKS: The Court's key features include:

  • Screening: Taking cases from all of Brooklyn, which has 2.35 million residents, the Treatment Court works with defendants facing felony drug charges. Cases are screened first by the Criminal Court, then by the District Attorney's office and finally by case managers.
  • Treatment recommendation: With the help of a detailed psycho-social assessment, case managers make a treatment recommendation to the Court. The recommendation is based on the severity of addiction, the defendant's community ties, criminal history and the severity of the charges.
  • Close monitoring: Defendants plead guilty with the promise that if they comply with the Court-mandated treatment, the Court will vacate the plea and dismiss the charges against them. Defendants who opt for treatment report back to the Court at regular intervals. At every appearance, urine is checked for drugs. The Court's advanced computer technology makes it easy to keep track of defendants at every step.
  • Sanctions and rewards: Guided by the understanding that relapses are frequently part of the recovery process, the judge rewards or sanctions participants to teach them that their behavior has consequences. A reward could be, for example, applause in the courtroom or reduction in the frequency of Court appearances. Sanctions range from writing assignments to jail time.
  • Alumni Bureau: Graduates join the Alumni Bureau, where they are encouraged to stay in touch with the Court, use the Court's social services, serve as a Court volunteer and help spread the word about the Court to new clients.

    RESULTS: From its start in June 1996 to January 2001, the Treatment Court placed 1,723 defendants in treatment. The Court has a one-year retention rate of 65 percent. Through December, 571 had "graduated." The Treatment Court is also the subject of an on-going Urban Institute evaluation.

    PARTNERSHIPS: Collaborators include the Kings County District Attorney, Legal Aid Society, the Departments of Health and Correction, the New York University School of Nursing, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, the Human Resources Administration, and over a hundred treatment providers and social service agencies. Funding has been provided by the Department of Justice, the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the State Justice Institute and the Fund for the City of New York.