Friends and family gathered in a courtroom last week to celebrate two men and the beginning of the rest of their lives. It was graduation day at City of Newburgh Drug Court.
“I came here for a shoplifting charge,” said Carl Banks. “I was 58-years-old, standing before a judge for petty larceny… that’s when I said I wanted to change.”
Banks graduated from the City of Newburgh Drug Treatment Court Program, which offers reduced sentences to people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. The program offers a second chance to offenders caught up in the cycle of addiction. The program also offers a veterans’ track, designed specifically to serve veterans.
“I thought I was here for punishment,” said former program participant Rolly Bain, speaking during the ceremony last Wednesday. “It was really a blessing.”
“I was tired of doing jail time,” said Banks after the ceremony. “I wanted to change my life. I wanted to become a productive citizen.”
Now free of a years-long heroin addiction, Banks lives and works as a volunteer at Renwick Recovery, a transitional housing facility on Mill Street. “I credit Judge Williams,” he said. “Doing time would have been easy.”
City Court Judge Eddie Loren Williams presides over the city drug court. “It starts with the idea that you need treatment,” he said. “You need to embrace that idea up front.”
Some participants “wrestle” with that idea, the judge said. However, it’s part of the “commitment we require as part of the treatment,” Williams said. “It requires a commitment from the community, as well.”
Especially, families, said the judge. “Participants do better when families are involved,” he said, as they can provide support, motivation and encouragement when the going gets toughest.
Participants typically face drug possession charges and other non-violent misdemeanors, said city Drug Court Resource Coordinator Lindsay Frusciante.
They come from all over Orange County. “They’re usually referred by a judge, lawyer or prosecutor’s office,” said Frusciante, a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor. “Any legal entity can make a referral,” she said, and individuals can also reach out to join the program on their own.
“What distinguishes drug courts is their uniquely collaborative approach to treatment: upon voluntary entry into court-supervised programs, appropriate non-violent addicted offenders become part of a dramatic intervention process,” the New York State Unified Court System states.
“This process involves coordination between defense attorneys, prosecutors, treatment and education providers, and law enforcement officials. Rules of participation are defined clearly in a contract agreed upon by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, the district attorney and the court.”
There are 141 drug courts operating in the state. The Newburgh drug treatment court program currently has 33 students, some who were honored at the ceremony for reaching the halfway point in their treatment plans. More than 150 people have graduated from the program since it began in 2003.
Participants are required to undergo drug testing, meet regularly with the judge and enter an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program.
Each participant gets an individualized treatment plan, which may involve seeking employment, housing and education services. Graduations are held three times a year. “It’s a voluntary program,” Frusciante said, and participants need to complete the program in order to receive a sentence reduction.
City of Newburgh Drug Court is held each Wednesday. To learn more about the drug treatment court program, contact Lindsay Frusciante at 845-483-8116.
By SHANTAL RILEY