When I speak to classes at SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College each semester, they mostly want to hear about Clinton County and Plattsburgh’s Mental Health Court and Drug Court.
Those are the specialized treatment courts that I presided over as Plattsburgh City Court Judge.
Drug courts, according to West Huddleston, the CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, take on “seriously addicted individuals with long criminal records who have alienated nearly everyone they love.”
These defendants have used up many second chances.
The insight behind drug courts is that the traditional approach of courts, probation and treatment are not sufficient to be effective with this very challenging clientele.
When mental-health issues are added, the work is even more complicated. Therefore, the drug and mental-health courts have a heavy emphasis on treatment and on supervision.
It takes a great deal of time and effort — by both the person with drug and/or mental-health issues and the professionals — to make the lasting changes necessary to achieve real recovery.
We know that getting people into treatment and keeping them there as long as possible increases the likelihood of long-term sobriety and life changes.
This approach sees the potential in people, not just the problems they are having.
Compared to regular probation, there is much more accountability — and also much more support — for the defendant/probationer in a treatment court.
The defendant is sentenced to intensive probation and required to continue appearing in court every two weeks.
This can go on two years or more, until the person graduates from the treatment court. A team of professionals — usually including a probation officer, treatment professional, prosecutor and defense attorney — works with the judge.
The team and judge meet to confer on cases every two weeks before the court session and often are in contact with each other between court dates, especially if there are problems with any of the probationers.