Mount Kisco  
Mount Kisco Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Council

 

Mt. Kisco Drug Court

Mount Kisco Judge Henry Kensing, left, and Mel Berger discuss cases before drug court.The concept of drug courts appears to be one whose time has at last come.  The Town Justice Court in Mt. Kisco, using the volunteer, Melvin Berger, has since 1990 utilized, in an informal and somewhat unstructured way, the treatment in lieu of punishment approach to dealing with non-violent perpetrators of alcohol-and drug-related misdemeanors and violations (mainly DWI, DWAI and UPM cases). 

 

(Pictured are former Mount Kisco Judge Henry Kensing, left, and Mel Berger discussing cases before drug court.)

Mr. Berger began in 1989 to attend court sessions and gathered statistical data indicating that more than 78% of the misdemeanor and violation charges before the Mount Kisco Justice Court were alcohol-or-drug-related.  Working with the Justices and the Council, a program was developed and began to be utilized in January 1990. The elements were, and still are, as follows:
1. The Justices announced a uniform policy indicating that they would not sentence any defendant who was charged with, or pleaded guilty to an alcohol-or-drug-related misdemeanor or violation, unless and until the defendant had been evaluated by a substance abuse professional of the defendant's choice.
2. Evaluation at the pre-disposition stage is entirely voluntary but defendants and their counsel often choose to have the evaluation conducted prior to disposition of the case so that sentencing will not be delayed after disposition. Mr. Berger attends all criminal court sessions and aids defendants in selecting an appropriate evaluation facility, including one with bi-lingual capabilities where appropriate. The results are forwarded to the Court but are sealed and not reviewed until and unless there is a disposition of the case.
3. At disposition, the evaluation is opened by the judge and, if it indicates treatment is required, the judge will include as part of the sentence a conditional discharge requiring the  defendant to participate in the recommended treatment and to require reports on defendant's attendance and participation to be made by the treatment provider to the Court, through the offices of Mr. Berger. Defendants who do not participate as required are subject to having their sentences revoked and being re-sentenced. Typically the fines imposed are the minimums  required by statute.

The program entails no cost to the Town and very modest costs for the defendants involved. Occasionally judges in neighboring town courts enlist Mr. Berger's assistance in evaluating and monitoring defendants in their courts. The effectiveness of the program in terms of preventing further involvement with the law on the part of the defendants involved in the program has not been statistically determined. At a minimum, convicted defendants are forced to examine their propensity for addictive behavior and its potentially adverse effect on their lives and well being and that of their families and communities. The Governor's recent proposals add to the unsubstantiated feeling that the treatment programs we employ are likely to have a positive effect. Obviously, more structure and more science in the program requires more resources, including staff. It appears that municipalities and their courts ought to consider joint efforts so that the costs of these resources and the attendant benefits can be shared.

January 31, 2001
Henry V. Kensing
Former Mount Kisco Town Justice