When accused drug-users who are also facing other charges come before a judge, chances are they're not expecting to get understanding and compassion. But NY1 Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger says that's exactly what's happening at Brooklyn's Treatment Court.
On Tuesday, there were hugs inside one Brooklyn courtroom. Emotional stories from people who say they beat drug addiction with assistance of caring judges and counselors.
"I was 125 five pounds soaking wet with seven teeth in my mouth. Judge Ferdinand you saw past all of that, all of that,” said Bonita Scott, a Brooklyn Treatment Court Graduate.
That's the Brooklyn Treatment Court that opened in 1996. The goal was for judges to send more people to rehab instead of locking them up and throwing away the key for illegal drug use. The court is celebrating the fact more than 5,000 people have come through the doors.
"The judge, she gave me a third chance. And sometimes that is what it takes a third chance,” said Kevin Mulhearn, a Brooklyn Treatment Court Graduate.
Judge Jo Ann Ferdinand presides over the court.
"5,000 lives reclaimed through recovery prove that drug courts are both smart drug policy and smart crime policy,” said Ferdinand.
The court was started under the leadership of the state's now-retired Chief Judge, Judith Kaye. She was honored for her dedication.
"The United States leads the world among developed nations in mass incarceration. Is that where we want to be a world leader, in mass incarceration? No. We want to be America, a land of opportunity. We want to be a land where we give people who make a mistake and deserve a second chance, a second chance,” said Kaye.
Some may argue this is an easy way out for those addicted to drugs. But, judges and officials say they are not cutting criminals any slack when they come into the Brooklyn Treatment Court.
In fact for many, trying to stay drug-free proves a lot harder than serving jail time.
"I didn't stay in the program that I was in, I relapsed. Judge Ferdinand sent me back to jail. She said I'm going to give you a wake-up,” said Sharon Cunningham.
And then she was sent back to rehab.
This treatment court has become a model used around the state and nation to address the issue of drug abuse and crime.