DA SINI & SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT COURT ANNOUNCE NEW DRUG DIVERSION PROGRAM
Innovative Program Will Offer Eligible Defendants Drug Treatment & Rehabilitation Services in Exchange for a Dismissal of Pending Charges
(CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.) – Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini, Suffolk County District Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, Suffolk County District Court Supervising Judge Karen Kerr, Suffolk County Court Judge Derrick Robinson and members of the criminal defense bar today announced the creation of a new drug treatment program to divert eligible defendants charged with certain misdemeanor offenses from the criminal justice system.
The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program, or C.A.R.E. Program, allows defendants suffering from substance use disorders to participate in the drug treatment program in exchange for the dismissal of the pending charges against them in Suffolk County.
“The C.A.R.E. Program is the latest tool in our arsenal to combat the drug epidemic facing our communities,” District Attorney Sini said. “The goal of the program is to divert low-level offenders who commit non-violent crimes due to substance abuse disorders away from the criminal justice system and into treatment where they can get the help they need. By connecting these individuals to treatment, we will not only be helping to tackle the disease of addiction and the opioid epidemic we are facing here in Suffolk County, but we will also be improving public safety by addressing the underlying motivation to commit crimes fueled by drug abuse. This program will make our communities safer and healthier. I thank Judge Hinrichs and Judge Kerr for creating this critically important program and for partnering with my office.”
“This innovative drug court model will work to save and transform lives, offering critical treatment and other support to help justice-involved individuals who have substance use disorders overcome the devastating disease of addiction ̶ without the stigma of conviction ̶ all while balancing the public safety. I am thankful to District Attorney Sini and his staff for their hard work and cooperation in bringing about the launch of this vital initiative. I am also very appreciative of the outstanding efforts of the Honorable Karen Kerr, Supervising Judge of District Court, the Honorable Derrick Robinson, Presiding Judge of Suffolk County Drug Court, and Ed Gialella, Drug Court Coordinator for all of their efforts in planning for this vital initiative,” said Judge Hinrichs.
“We are hopeful that the collaborative relationship which exists between the District Attorney’s Office, Defense Bar and the Judiciary will foster increased participation in the program and help lead the participants on a path to recovery and healthful living benefiting the individual and the community as a whole,” said Judge Kerr.
The C.A.R.E. Program is open to defendants who have minimal or no criminal record and who have no history of violence or gang involvement. Defendants are eligible for the program if they are charged with the misdemeanor crimes of Petit Larceny; Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth or Fifth Degree; Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree; Criminal Trespass in the Second or Third Degree; Criminal Possession of a Hypodermic Instrument; Criminal Use of Drug Paraphernalia in the Second Degree; Disorderly Conduct; or Loitering in the First Degree.
Eligible defendants who opt to participate in the program sign a letter of understanding to receive drug treatment for 90 days. They are evaluated by the Suffolk County Drug Treatment Team, which comprises members of the Suffolk County Department of Health Community Mental Hygiene Services, Suffolk County Department of Probation and other court staff, to determine the appropriate treatment plan and rehabilitation services provided to them. All services and treatment will be provided by agencies certified by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Participants can also opt to receive treatment for longer than the 90-day period.
Upon successful completion of the program, participants will have their cases dismissed in the interest of justice and sealed.
The program will run in addition to the Suffolk County Drug Treatment Court, in which eligible defendants suffering from substance abuse disorders are required to enter a plea of guilty in exchange for treatment. Defendants participate in the Drug Treatment Court for a minimum of 12 months on misdemeanor charges and 18 months on felony charges. If the defendant successfully completes treatment, the charges will be reduced or dismissed depending on the plea agreement in the Drug Treatment Court contract. Failure to complete the requirements of the Drug Treatment Court results in an agreed-upon breakout, which is typically a jail sentence.
“The current drug treatment court model requires that the defendant plead guilty to the charged crimes prior to participation in the treatment court, which many in the defense bar claim is a significant impediment,” District Attorney Sini said. “C.A.R.E. removes that requirement with the objective of further incentivizing defendants to participate in treatment.”
In the C.A.R.E. Program, if the District Attorney’s Office determines that a violation of the agreement has occurred during the 90-day period, the case will be referred to the Suffolk County Drug Treatment Court where a plea will be offered to the defendant. If the defendant accepts the plea, he or she will enter into a Suffolk County Drug Treatment Court contract. If the defendant chooses not to enter into the Suffolk County Drug Court Treatment Court contract, the case will be referred to a regular courtroom for disposition.
Violations of the program include being arrested on new charges; not engaging in the treatment program as recommended by the Suffolk County Drug Treatment Team; or not reporting to court for scheduled appearances. Participants also agree to undergo drug testing prior to the completion of the C.A.R.E. Program.
“This model also aims to increase enrollment among minorities, in light of drug court’s relative lack of minority participation,” Sini said. “In fact, we applied the eligibility criteria of the C.A.R.E. program to a recent time period of three months, which showed that the pool of eligible defendants is far more diverse than the current makeup of drug court. Thus, not only will this program increase the number of defendants in treatment, it will ensure that all defendants – no matter what race or ethnicity – have an opportunity to benefit from this program.”
“The Suffolk County Criminal Bar Association is thrilled that the courts and the office of the District Attorney – a District Attorney who promised us real change and is delivering on that promise today – have worked alongside our association to bring treatment as a real opportunity for the still sick and suffering from all backgrounds, all communities, and all neighborhoods in our county. We have all made a commitment to monitor the program and to see to it that treatment reaches everyone that it can reach to deliver the promise of a clean, safe and sober lifestyle and, by extension, improvement in our community. We applaud District Attorney Sini, Judge Hinrichs, Judge Kerr, Judge Robinson and the Drug Court team,” said Harry Tilis, President of the Suffolk County Criminal Bar Association.
“On behalf of the Suffolk County Bar Association, we are very excited about this project, we are excited about the expansion of the drug treatment court program, and we’re most excited about this bold and innovative approach to law enforcement. We truly believe it shows a new level of compassion and dedication to the elimination of the opioid epidemic,” said Justin Block, President of the Suffolk County Bar Association.
“On behalf of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, I am hopeful upon the announcement of the C.A.R.E. program, which allows another treatment option for those who are plagued by the scourge of drug addiction. We see the C.A.R.E. program as a positive step toward encouraging a culture of forgiveness and rehabilitation in the court process. Too often we see those who struggle with the disease of addiction make minor errors in judgment that lead to a lifetime of negative consequences, even after they have completed rehabilitation. We look forward to working within a treatment paradigm that holds the legal case in abeyance while allowing the individual to focus on successful recovery and wellness. I am also optimistic that the C.A.R.E. program will be a viable alternative for indigent defendants who are disproportionately Black and Latino. We see C.A.R.E. as an opportunity for a progressive drug court that is both diverse and inclusive, one that addresses inequity in the justice system due to race and poverty. I credit the leadership of the Court and the DA’s office for spearheading the C.A.R.E. program, and for collaborating with the defense and treatment communities in an effort to save lives and break the cycle of crime and addiction,” said Laurette Mulry, Attorney in Charge of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County.
“We commend District Attorney Sini for once again piloting criminal justice programs in Suffolk that recognize addiction as a treatable disease, while at the same time safeguarding public health, safety and taxpayer dollars. While some defendants should and will make their way through the criminal justice system, a smarter approach that provides for earlier diversion into treatment for low-level offenders frees up critical law enforcement resources and may help end a revolving door of arrests, court dates, and jail sentences for Suffolk’s residents who are struggling with addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, President and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association.
“The Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) commends Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini for his genuine leadership and innovation in the development and launch of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education (C.A.R.E) Program. This new dimension in Suffolk County diversion programming that offers active substance users treatment intervention opportunities will prove beneficial to the many individuals currently struggling with substance use disorders (SUD). It is these historic multi-professional partnerships between judicial leaders, prosecutors and treatment providers that will allow Suffolk County to take a new and effective approach in combating the substance use crisis. The C.A.R.E. program, offering compassionate and evidenced based treatment for those individuals engaged in a host of unhealthy behaviors as a result the disease of addiction, is an unprecedented effort to meet the issue at the cause. To District Attorney Sini, Justice C. Randall Hinrichs and those that helped develop the C.A.R.E. program, we thank you for your leadership and assistance in helping Suffolk County residents in need,” said Steven Chassman, Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.