Most states have acknowledged that first-time offenders charged with committing minor crimes may not be best served by the regular judicial process of a plea and a sentence or trial. Counseling can often help and can often deter first offenders from committing a second offense. Defendants struggling with substance abuse issues can get the help they need when they participate in a judicial diversion program.

Suffolk County’s Judicial Diversion Program (JDP) offers some criminal defendants in Suffolk County an opportunity to move forward positively and constructively with their lives, free from alcohol and drugs. The Suffolk County JDP is a program for offenders who are facing non-violent felony charges and who also abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Instead of jail or probation, the JDP puts offenders in a drug or alcohol treatment program.

The Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program is a collaboration between the Suffolk County Probation Department and County Court personnel to provide community supervision, substance abuse treatment, and case management to drug dependent felony offenders who have pleaded guilty to a non-violent felony charge. The program includes regular court appearances and supervision by a judge, as outlined below.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE SUFFOLK COUNTY JDP?

Precisely who qualifies for the Suffolk County JDP? Non-violent, drug dependent offenders charged with felony drug sales or possession – or other addiction-driven felonies – qualify. The defendants must plead guilty and agree to a contract with the court which spells out the orders of the court and the outcomes for completing the program successfully or for failure to complete the JDP successfully. An individual with a record of violent crimes, a severe or persistent mental illness, or a medical condition which would interfere with Judicial Diversion Program’s requirements will not be eligible.

If you are charged with a felony in Suffolk County, and if you believe that you are not guilty of the charge, an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney can fight to have the charge against you dismissed or advocate at a trial for your acquittal. However, if the evidence against you is persuasive, and if you need professional help with a drug or alcohol dependency, it’s possible that the Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program may actually be just right for you. Consult with your attorney before you make any decision that will affect your freedom and future.

If you are eligible for the Suffolk County JDP, after your arraignment on the felony charge, you may choose the Judicial Diversion Program as an alternative to the regular court process. A Case Manager will then work with you to develop a personalized counseling and treatment plan. While you are in counseling and treatment in the JDP, a judge will closely monitor your progress.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR PHASES OF THE SUFFOLK COUNTY JDP?

The Suffolk County JDP includes four phases, and participants must successfully complete each phase before moving to the next phase. Phase One of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least two months. This phase focuses on the offender’s choice of a drug-free life and helps an offender establish freedom from drugs and alcohol by developing appropriate life skills and coping skills.

Phase One includes:

– the start of treatment and attendance at all treatment and counseling sessions
– a weekly report, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– no drug or alcohol use and random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– attendance at all required drug court sessions
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– two consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Two

Phase Two of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least four months. In this phase, the participant stabilizes his or her participation in the program, works out strategies for living without alcohol and drugs, and focuses on developing realistic educational and/or employment goals.

Phase Two includes:

– mandatory attendance at all treatment and counseling sessions
– weekly reports, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– continuing abstinence from drug or alcohol use
– random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– attendance at all required drug court sessions
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– start or apply for a job skills training program or an educational program
– four consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Three

Phase Three of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least six months. In Phase Three, the participant moves toward independence, reconnects with his or her family and community, and begins planning to complete the JDP and fulfill the final program requirements.

Phase Three of the program includes:

– attendance at all required treatment sessions
– a focus on relapse prevention and development of a relapse prevention strategy
– weekly reports, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– continuing abstinence from drug or alcohol use
– random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– development of a continuing care plan and a community re-integration strategy
– start a job or an education or vocational program with a goal of self-sufficiency
– six consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Four

Phase Four of the Suffolk County JDP also lasts for at least six months. Phase Four prepares the participant for release from the program and reentry into the community as a sober, productive, law-abiding individual. Phase Four focuses on the requirements for graduation from the JDP program. Attendance at treatment sessions is still required in Phase Four, along with the weekly telephone reports. Unannounced home visits and random screenings may continue. Near the end of the JDP, a participant must submit a written graduation application that spells out his or her accomplishments in the program and goals for the future.

WHAT IF A PARTICIPANT VIOLATES JDP RULES?

The court responds to violations of the program’s terms and conditions with a system of incremental or “graduated” sanctions. Violations are classified on the basis of their severity as “A” level infractions (serious infractions like flight from the program or a new arrest on a new charge) or as “B” level infractions (such as substituting or tampering with a urine sample). The number and severity of a participant’s violations determine the court’s response.

If you are charged with a non-violent, drug or alcohol-related felony in Suffolk County, and if you are dealing with a chemical dependency or addiction, the Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program may be your chance to get the help you need. After an arrest for any criminal charge, anywhere on Long Island or in the New York City area, speak with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney about your options. Sometimes an arrest isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Sometimes, for those who are willing, an arrest can be a positive turning point in someone’s life.