May 26, 2006
Oswego County's Treatment Courts Are Turning Families' Lives Around
Back in 1999, when the first Drug Treatment Court defendant appeared before Oswego County Court Judge James McCarthy, Oswego County was embarking on a new program that provided non-violent drug offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves and avoid criminal prosecution. Drug treatment courts were operating in a few other parts of the country, but Oswego County was the first county in upstate New York to develop a countywide treatment court.
Since that day, Oswego County's treatment courts have had a very significant and positive impact on our quality of life. More than 120 people have graduated from criminal treatment and family treatment courts in our county. Recovered addicts are supporting themselves and their families with real jobs, our communities are safer, children are healthier, and taxpayers are relieved of the cost of keeping non-violent addicts behind bars and placing their children in foster care.
Drug treatment courts take a problem-solving approach to helping families affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Defendants must prove they can stay sober and drug-free, participate in intense treatment and behavior sanctions, and be accountable to the court for their every action.
Participants sign a contract stating that they will comply with all conditions of treatment and supervision. Monitored closely by the presiding judge, defendants are tested randomly and frequently for drugs and alcohol. When they have successfully completed the steps required by the court, after at least a year of treatment, they are allowed to graduate.
Criminal court graduates may avoid jail time and have their original charges reduced or vacated. Those who don't complete the program are guaranteed jail time; as they have already been prosecuted and pled guilty. People who are charged with a violent crime, or who have a history of violence, aren't accepted into a treatment court program.
Oswego County began the Family Treatment Court component in 2002. Parents who graduate from family treatment court may have a child neglect petition erased from their record, and, depending on the individual's circumstances, either regain or retain custody of their children.
Family Court Judge David J. Roman, who is designated as an Acting Supreme Court Justice, has presided over Family Treatment Court since its inception. The program works as a catalyst for positive change in family units affected by substance abuse. Each defendant reports on their progress with treatment, housing conditions, job skills, and even their involvement in their children's school activities. Drug-free babies are being born in families that were once affected by substance abuse. In countless cases, Family Treatment Court has allowed children to remain with their siblings and parents, and shortened the length of foster care for other children.
Judge McCarthy supervised the Criminal Treatment Court until 2003. Since then, defendants in the Criminal Treatment Court appear before Oswego City Court Judge and Acting County Court Judge James M. Metcalf. Judge McCarthy now presides over Oswego County's sex offender supervision court.
Right now there are more than 70 people involved in the criminal and family treatment court programs. Several will graduate in June. Led by program administrator David Guyer and case manager Margo Orton, a team of caseworkers, counselors, treatment providers, and probation officers work with each individual from start to finish.
Oswego County's treatment courts rely on a partnership of many community agencies - the District Attorney's Office, Probation Department, Department of Social Services Children's Services and Income Maintenance units, local treatment agencies including Farnham Family Services, Harbor Lights Chemical Dependency Services, the County of Oswego Council on Alcoholism and Addictions, Oswego County Defense Bar and Law Guardian Panel, and local law enforcement agencies. Representatives of many of these agencies were involved in preparing the federal grant application to implement Oswego County's first Drug Treatment Court.
Since then, the New York State Unified Court System, led by Chief Judge Judith Kaye, has mandated that every county in New York State have a criminal and family treatment court. Based in large part on the success of our treatment courts, Oswego County is now the first county in New York State to provide a sex offender supervision court. The county's Integrated Domestic Violence Court, which is also supervised by Judge Roman, began in December 2005. Other regions are developing mental health courts, gambling courts, and juvenile drug treatment courts.
Regions across the U.S. observed National Drug Court Month during May in honor of the Drug Court movement. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, this year's theme, "Successful Partnering for Recovery," emphasizes the importance of creating and sustaining community partnerships that enhance clients' prospects for recovery.
The next graduation ceremony for Criminal and Family Treatment Courts is June 23 at 2 p.m. at Oswego City Court. The ceremony is open to the public.
Drug treatment courts may not work for everyone, but they are very successful in reducing recidivism among those facing serious drug charges and long prison terms. For more information on Oswego County's treatment courts, call Dave Guyer, program administrator, at 349-8716.
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