Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: June 22, 2000

Seal of the Unified Court System
A National First: New York to Launch Systemic Program of Drug Screening and Court-Mandated Substance Abuse Treatment Statewide
NEW YORK - The Unified Court System announces sweeping new reforms to provide court-mandated substance abuse treatment to nonviolent drug-addicted offenders throughout the state. These reforms are designed to address the staggering 400 percent increase over the last two decades in the number of narcotics cases confronting New York's courts. The court system's new addiction-focused strategy is based on recommendations of the Commission on Drugs and the Courts, a statewide panel convened by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to study the courts' handling of drug-related cases in New York. Today the Commission released an extensive 126-page report detailing its investigation over the past year.

The new program will make New York's court system the first in the nation to adopt a comprehensive systemic strategy to combat the overwhelming impact of substance abuse on court caseloads. It will include across-the-board drug screening for criminal cases, court-mandated substance abuse treatment for nonviolent defendants and parents charged in Family Court child neglect cases, and the creation of specialized courts that will exclusively target persistent misdemeanor offenders. When the program is fully operational, the court system estimates that it will put nearly 10,000 additional defendants into court-mandated treatment and will generate over $500 million a year in incarceration and long-term taxpayer savings.

The court system's new initiative deals solely with nonviolent substance-abusing defendants  (not drug dealers or violent offenders) and features the following key elements:

  • Statewide screening of criminal defendants and parents charged with neglect in Family Court cases to identify nonviolent addicts eligible for treatment
  • In-depth assessment and drug testing of those eligible and willing to participate in treatment in exchange for a favorable case disposition
  • Diversion to appropriate treatment in drug courts or prosecutor-sponsored programs
  • Judicial supervision and close monitoring of addicted offenders throughout the treatment process
  • Strict systems of sanctions and rewards to motivate defendants to succeed in treatment
  • Drug courts in every metropolitan area and jurisdiction of the state
  • Specialized courts in New York City to handle persistent misdemeanor offenders (statistics show that these offenders very often are substance abusers)
  • Probation Violation Courts for both adults and juveniles throughout New York City, which will provide more effective monitoring of these defendants who typically abuse drugs
  • Family Treatment Courts, which handle child neglect cases that are based on the substance-abusing behavior of a parent, throughout New York State (These courts, currently operating in Manhattan and Suffolk County, have been shown to reduce the length of foster care stays from four years to one.)
Chief Judge Kaye said, "It is an eye-opening statistic that approximately 75 percent of all defendants in New York City test positive for drugs at the time of arrest. In processing over a million criminal cases a year, the court system is seeking to end the unproductive recycling of  immense numbers of drug cases, which have pushed to the limit our already overburdened court dockets. In this regard, we are beginning immediately to implement a new program that addresses drug-related offenses on a systemic level statewide, concentrating on achieving the most cost-effective and long-term outcomes for both the public and substance-abusing defendants, while at the same time safeguarding public safety. The Commission on Drugs and the Courts' recommendations and report - the most exhaustive study on the impact of drugs on the justice system ever conducted in the country - have provided us with a blueprint with which to proceed, and I thank Commission Chair Fiske and all of the Commission members for their most thorough and insightful work."

Chair Robert B. Fiske, Jr., the former U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District and a partner with the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell, stated, "I am honored to have been able to head this inquiry into such a critical area of public policy and am particularly gratified to know that the Commission's recommendations are being fully adopted by the courts. Cooperation among all sectors of the justice system is essential in such a project, and I encourage the district attorneys, defense bar and treatment community from around the state to work together in this regard. I would like to thank my co-members on the Commission for their dedication and diligence, without which this important endeavor would not have been possible."

Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman said, "Under the court's new statewide court-mandated treatment program, the emphasis will be on early intervention - attacking substance abuse issues from the onset of a case, before they tax the resources of the courts and the public. This major new initiative represents a sea change in the courts' handling of drug-related cases and puts New York State at the forefront as a national leader in this critical area of justice. The end result of our efforts will be to reduce recidivism and costs and build a new architecture to tackle the modern-day scourge of drug addiction."

The New York State Commission on Drugs and the Courts was established in October 1999 by Chief Judge  Kaye to study how drug cases are handled by the courts and to determine whether changes could be made to more effectively process these cases. It was chaired by Robert B. Fiske, Jr., and consisted of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, academics, substance abuse experts and agency representatives from across the state. The roster of Commission members is attached.

The Commission's report, "Confronting the Cycle of Addiction and Recidivism," can be accessed from the Unified Court System's website at or by calling the UCS Communications Office at (212) 428-2500.

Commission on Drugs and the Courts - Member List

Chair: Robert B. Fiske, Jr.
  Davis Polk & Wardwell

Hon. John J. Ark
Justice, New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County

Stanley S. Arkin
Arkin Schaffer & Kaplan, LLP

Hon. Phylis Skloot Bamberger
Judge, New York State Supreme Court, Bronx County

Steven R. Belenko, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

Bridget G. Brennan
Special Narcotics Prosecutor, New York City Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

Paul J. Browne
Senior Advisor to the Commissioner, United States Customs Service

Zachary W. Carter
Dorsey & Whitney, LLP

Hon. Frank J. Clark
District Attorney, Erie County

Terrence M. Connors
Connors & Vilardo

Hon. Janet DiFiore
Judge, Westchester County Court

Monica Drinane
Attorney-in-Charge, Juvenile Rights Division, Legal Aid Society of New York

John Feinblatt
Director, Center for Court Innovation

Hon. Jo Ann Ferdinand
Presiding Judge, Brooklyn Treatment Court

Hon. William J. Fitzpatrick
District Attorney, Onondaga County

Michael P. Jacobson
Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Barry M. Kamins
Flamhaft Levy Kamins & Hirsch

James M. Kindler
Chief Assistant District Attorney, New York County

Roderick C. Lankler
Lankler Siffert & Wohl

Michele Maxian
Attorney-in-Charge, Criminal Defense Division, Legal Aid Society of New York

Paul S. Miller
Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Pfizer Inc.

Hon. Juanita Bing Newton
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, State of New York

Edward J. Nowak
Public Defender, Monroe County

Mitchell S. Rosenthal, M.D.
President, Phoenix House Foundation, Inc.

Hon. Robert T. Russell, Jr.
Presiding Judge, Buffalo Treatment Court

Hon. Gloria Sosa-Lintner
Judge, Family Court of New York City; Presiding Judge, Manhattan Family Treatment Court

Anne J. Swern
Deputy District Attorney, Kings County

Michael Whiteman
Whiteman Osterman & Hanna