Law & Justice

Putnam County Judge Shares Success of Drug Court with Yorktown

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Putnam County Judge James Reitz, fourh from left, stands with Yorktown officials and heroin task force members following his presentation last Monday. Credits: Beth Tolmach
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YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Facing a growing heroin epidemic, Yorktown judges are seeking alternative methods for helping drug addicts who are caught in the legal system with repeat offenses to find a way out.

The Yorktown Citizen Task Force Against Heroin sponsored an open forum held Monday, Dec. 21, at the Yorktown Justice Court, where Putnam County Judge James Reitz spoke to the public about the drug treatment court program which has already been successfully implemented in his county. Reitz has worked to develop the treatment court in Putnam County for the last nine years.

The treatment court allows adults convicted with drug charges to opt out of a prison sentence and instead take part in a rigorous, minimum two-year program where they can get sober, learn new behaviors, and become contributing members of society once again. The program requires that participants regularly check in with the court and engage in appropriate treatment with a team of trained professionals from organizations like Arms Acres, Putnam Family and Community Services. The program has four main phases, which last around six months each. During each phase, the participant is expected to write an essay and share it with the group. If anyone relapses, they are required to start over. Addicts can complete the program at their own pace, and are allowed to stay in the program for up to five years, if necessary.

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Yorktown Councilman Tom Diana introduced the event, thanking the audience for coming out at a busy time of year.

“While holidays place a premium on our time, I’d like to think it’s appropriate we’re taking time now to tackle the crisis in our town,” he said.

Reitz then spoke for over an hour about the benefits of the treatment court program. He emphasized that although the treatment court is an alternative to jail, it is not an “easy way out.” “It’s a tough program—let’s get the misconceptions out of the way,” he said at the start.

Reitz’s main message throughout the evening was that the drug court presents an option beyond the lifetime of addiction, institutionalization, or early death that most drug offenders can expect.

“Human beings are like sponges,” he told the audience. “We absorb. We’re a product of our environment.”

By encouraging heroin addicts to take charge of their lives, they can reintegrate back into their communities. Prison, on the other hand, will just create lifetime felons, said Reitz. He added the treatment court represents one way the legal system can evolve from the tough-on-crime attitude, which vilifies drug addicts, toward a new mindset: one which understands addiction as a mental illness to be treated, rather than an offense to be punished.

It’s a notion that may at first seem too good to be true. Judge Reitz, whose enthusiasm and passion for the program was apparent during his presentation, was more than ready to appease these doubts.

“For the disbelievers...I don’t blame you for being a skeptic,” he said.

Reitz went on to argue that the treatment court is not just idealistic, but also a highly practical measure. The program has already saved Putnam County millions of dollars that would’ve otherwise been spent housing addicts in jail, he said. It also creates functional members of society, who will contribute to the local economy and community.

“We’re holding people accountable instead of letting them go through the revolving door of prison and re-offending,” said Reitz. “Anyone can take the easy way out as a judge and put someone in jail.”

He said that the alternative takes “work and effort,” but it’s a trade-off he views as worthwhile.

Reitz went in-depth on what exactly this new system would cost Yorktown. The treatment court program involves the hiring of one coordinator, who makes $65-85,000 a year, including benefits.  Reitz compared this with the $22,000 a year that it costs to house just one person in county jail for a year, or the $60,000 it costs to house a person in state prison per year.

Reitz also shared a number of statistics: Only 12.5 percent of successful graduates of the drug court end up re-offending; 50 percent of all participants in the program—successful; and 95 percent of those arrested for heroin charges get arrested again when they don’t participate in treatment court.

Another aspect of the treatment program is random and frequent drug testing in order to ensure the participants are sober for the program. Participants are required to purchase their own drug tests, as to hold them accountable as well as lessen taxpayer burden.

Reitz shared several anecdotes about some of the success stories he’s witnessed over the past nine years. In one example, a veteran who returned from service with physical and mental scars became addicted to prescription pills, and eventually moved on to street drugs. When he was arrested in Putnam County, he was presented with the chance to get treatment instead of jail. Since completing the program, the veteran now serves on a local drug task force and is helping to create a program especially suited for veterans with addiction problems.

At the end of his presentation, Reitz encouraged the audience to challenge him with questions: “I want you to put me on the spot,” he said.

One person asked about whether or not the same treatment options are made available to those addicts who are also convicted dealers. Reitz acknowledged that this is a common issue, and stated that every person admitted into the program is evaluated by professionals. Ultimately, Reitz believes that anyone who is eligible and willing to be part of the program should have that opportunity. Dealing, he said, is just another symptom of an addict in trouble.

“It’s a vicious cycle unless we deal with the root cause,” he said.

Yorktown would be the first municipality in Westchester County to implement a drug treatment program of this magnitude. The introduction of a similar program in Yorktown is still in the idea phase, and there would be much more work to be done before a treatment court could become a reality. Yorktown Citizens Task Force Against Heroin, which organized the Dec. 21 forum, has been a major force behind this effort.

Task force co-chair Mike Reda said that to implement a similar program as the one in Putnam, it will take coordination between many parts of the community: the court, the Yorktown Police Department and, of course, the county. Yorktown Judge Gary Raniolo stated that the Court was very impressed by Reitz’s presentation and he hopes that Reitz will serve as a mentor while Yorktown develops its own program.

“There are a lot of young people on heroin, and too many deaths,” Raniolo said. While there isn’t a timetable yet, the Yorktown court will be sorting out the details of its own program in the coming year.

There is a currently a Facebook page, Yorktown Against Heroin, where people can stay up-to-date with this issue.Facing a growing heroin epidemic, Yorktown judges are seeking alternative methods for helping drug addicts who are caught in the legal system with repeat offenses to find a way out.

 

The Yorktown Citizen Task Force Against Heroin sponsored an open forum held Monday, Dec. 21, at the Yorktown Justice Court, where Putnam County Judge James Reitz spoke to the public about the drug treatment court program which has already been successfully implemented in his county. Reitz has worked to develop the treatment court in Putnam County for the last nine years.

The treatment court allows adults convicted with drug charges to opt out of a prison sentence and instead take part in a rigorous, minimum two-year program where they can get sober, learn new behaviors, and become contributing members of society once again. The program requires that participants regularly check in with the court and engage in appropriate treatment with a team of trained professionals from organizations like Arms Acres, Putnam Family and Community Services. The program has four main phases, which last around six months each. During each phase, the participant is expected to write an essay and share it with the group. If anyone relapses, they are required to start over. Addicts can complete the program at their own pace, and are allowed to stay in the program for up to five years, if necessary.

Yorktown Councilman Tom Diana introduced the event, thanking the audience for coming out at a busy time of year.

“While holidays place a premium on our time, I’d like to think it’s appropriate we’re taking time now to tackle the crisis in our town,” he said.

Reitz then spoke for over an hour about the benefits of the treatment court program. He emphasized that although the treatment court is an alternative to jail, it is not an “easy way out.” “It’s a tough program—let’s get the misconceptions out of the way,” he said at the start.

Reitz’s main message throughout the evening was that the drug court presents an option beyond the lifetime of addiction, institutionalization, or early death that most drug offenders can expect.

“Human beings are like sponges,” he told the audience. “We absorb. We’re a product of our environment.”

By encouraging heroin addicts to take charge of their lives, they can reintegrate back into their communities. Prison, on the other hand, will just create lifetime felons, said Reitz. He added the treatment court represents one way the legal system can evolve from the tough-on-crime attitude, which vilifies drug addicts, toward a new mindset: one which understands addiction as a mental illness to be treated, rather than an offense to be punished.

It’s a notion that may at first seem too good to be true. Judge Reitz, whose enthusiasm and passion for the program was apparent during his presentation, was more than ready to appease these doubts.

“For the disbelievers...I don’t blame you for being a skeptic,” he said.

Reitz went on to argue that the treatment court is not just idealistic, but also a highly practical measure. The program has already saved Putnam County millions of dollars that would’ve otherwise been spent housing addicts in jail, he said. It also creates functional members of society, who will contribute to the local economy and community.

“We’re holding people accountable instead of letting them go through the revolving door of prison and re-offending,” said Reitz. “Anyone can take the easy way out as a judge and put someone in jail.”

He said that the alternative takes “work and effort,” but it’s a trade-off he views as worthwhile.

Reitz went in-depth on what exactly this new system would cost Yorktown. The treatment court program involves the hiring of one coordinator, who makes $65-85,000 a year, including benefits.  Reitz compared this with the $22,000 a year that it costs to house just one person in county jail for a year, or the $60,000 it costs to house a person in state prison per year.

Reitz also shared a number of statistics: Only 12.5 percent of successful graduates of the drug court end up re-offending; 50 percent of all participants in the program—successful; and 95 percent of those arrested for heroin charges get arrested again when they don’t participate in treatment court.

Another aspect of the treatment program is random and frequent drug testing in order to ensure the participants are sober for the program. Participants are required to purchase their own drug tests, as to hold them accountable as well as lessen taxpayer burden.

Reitz shared several anecdotes about some of the success stories he’s witnessed over the past nine years. In one example, a veteran who returned from service with physical and mental scars became addicted to prescription pills, and eventually moved on to street drugs. When he was arrested in Putnam County, he was presented with the chance to get treatment instead of jail. Since completing the program, the veteran now serves on a local drug task force and is helping to create a program especially suited for veterans with addiction problems.

At the end of his presentation, Reitz encouraged the audience to challenge him with questions: “I want you to put me on the spot,” he said.

One person asked about whether or not the same treatment options are made available to those addicts who are also convicted dealers. Reitz acknowledged that this is a common issue, and stated that every person admitted into the program is evaluated by professionals. Ultimately, Reitz believes that anyone who is eligible and willing to be part of the program should have that opportunity. Dealing, he said, is just another symptom of an addict in trouble.

“It’s a vicious cycle unless we deal with the root cause,” he said.

Yorktown would be the first municipality in Westchester County to implement a drug treatment program of this magnitude. The introduction of a similar program in Yorktown is still in the idea phase, and there would be much more work to be done before a treatment court could become a reality. Yorktown Citizens Task Force Against Heroin, which organized the Dec. 21 forum, has been a major force behind this effort.

Task force co-chair Mike Reda said that to implement a similar program as the one in Putnam, it will take coordination between many parts of the community: the court, the Yorktown Police Department and, of course, the county. Yorktown Judge Gary Raniolo stated that the Court was very impressed by Reitz’s presentation and he hopes that Reitz will serve as a mentor while Yorktown develops its own program.

“There are a lot of young people on heroin, and too many deaths,” Raniolo said. While there isn’t a timetable yet, the Yorktown court will be sorting out the details of its own program in the coming year.

There is a currently a Facebook page, Yorktown Against Heroin, where people can stay up-to-date with this issue.

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