Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The Judicial Perspective

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

The Judicial Perspective

Article excerpt




Jo Ann Ferdinand Brooklyn Treatment Court

William G. Schma Kalamazoo County Circuit Court

James A. Yates New York County Supreme Court

Peggy Hora Alameda County Superior Court

John Martin Institute for Court Management

Jo Ann Ferdinand Brooklyn Treatment Court

There was a lot of talk at the conference this morning and yesterday about coercion, and I was thinking that from the judicial perspective, there isn't a day when I do not speak to an audience that is only present because of coercion. The lawyers are there on pain of monetary sanctions. The defendants are there so that they don't get warrants. Even the court staff are there so that they get paid. So it is really quite a treat to be speaking to a voluntary audience and impressive that you all showed up after lunch.

I do want to add my thanks to Fordham University Law School for holding this Symposium on an issue for which I have a great deal of passion.

I preside in the Brooklyn Treatment Court, which is in Kings County here in New York City. We were the first treatment court to open in the City of New York and continue to be one of the largest in the country. Since we opened about six years ago, I have sent over 2000 people to substance abuse treatment programs and have seen over 700 of them successfully complete the Court's long-term treatment mandates.

Our court in Brooklyn was created really in response to the reality of the criminal justice situation, the fact that at least, in New York City, upwards of seventy percent of people who are arrested test positive for drug use, so that a substantial number of people caught up in the criminal justice system are there as a result of their own need to feed their addiction.

We knew that the traditional criminal justice responses to these individuals were simply not working. Whether I sent people to prison, placed them on probation, or ordered them to do community service, if their underlying issue of addiction was not addressed, they would continue to commit crimes and therefore appear back in my court.

The Treatment Court in Brooklyn was developed with a system-wide approach. Our theory is that if people are arrested for crimes and are substance abusers, they should be treated in the criminal justice system with a view towards their disease. They should be offered an opportunity to deal with their addiction and should be rewarded for doing so with a favorable resolution of their criminal case.

From the judicial point of view, I think there are three aspects of presiding in a drug court which are immensely rewarding. The first is that it improves judicial decision-making by allowing me to make informed decisions. That is what I thought the job of a judge was: to make informed decisions. In fact, the reality of the situation in the criminal justice system is that you are making decisions with a minimal amount of information. This information is funneled by people who obviously have inconsistent points of view, while in a drug treatment court you are the recipient of information that comes from defense attorneys, the district attorney, and treatment providers who have exchanged all of the information at their disposal so that, in providing all of the information to the Court, we can together attempt to make a better decision.

Knowledge and sharing of facts really informs my decision, and when you add to that a knowledge of addiction and recovery, it means that the decisions can be that much more logical. A knowledge of addiction and recovery is really a crucial part of it. I heard somebody say earlier today that the lack of knowledge of addiction and recovery really permeates the criminal justice system, and I was a judge who allowed people an opportunity to go to treatment if they begged, if their lawyer pleaded, and if the DA was finally convinced. …

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