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).
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