By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has been touring the country to celebrate National Drug Court Month. Its final stop was at Brooklyn's Drug Treatment Court on Friday.
The trip, which is called All Rise America!, is meant to highlight recovery stories from drug court graduates nationwide. Brooklyn's Treatment Court was chosen as its final stop because it is seen as a pioneer among drug courts in helping to change the lives of people who otherwise would have gotten caught up in the criminal justice system.
“The Brooklyn Treatment Court was established in 1996,” Chris Deutsch, NADCP’s director of communications, said. “It wasn’t the first drug court in the county, but it was certainly a pioneer, and we wanted to end this trip here to recognize that.”
There are currently more than 2,700 drug court programs in the country. The first one was implemented in Florida in 1989. Drug courts seek to rehabilitate people arrested on drug charges who otherwise might be in and out of prison for most of their lives.
When the Brooklyn Treatment Court was created, there were only about 80 such courts in the entire country. The Brooklyn court has now graduated more than 3,000 people.
The event on Friday was hosted by Hon. Jo Ann Ferdinand, who presides over Brooklyn’s drug court. She introduced the Alumni Parade of Success, a group of graduates from the Brooklyn Treatment Court who gave brief speeches about how the drug court affected them.
“The Brooklyn Treatment Court is the best thing that happened in my life because it saved my life,” said graduate John Rodriguez. “[Judge Ferdinand] saved my life.”
Judge Ferdinand credited John Feinblatt, founding director for the Center for Court Innovation, for being instrumental to bringing a drug court to Brooklyn back in 1996. “He had the vision and turned it into reality,” she said.
“The easy thing to do would have been to be skeptical, but the smarter thing was to put aside preconceived notions to start asking the right questions,” Feinblatt said about the founding of the court.
Hon. Barry Kamins introduced Brooklyn’s District Attorney, Charles Hynes, and credited him with being a pioneer of the program. He said that because of Hynes, the program quickly caught on throughout all of New York.
“I used to be a criminal defense attorney, and I would find it offensive when a young DA thought they were making their career off of one of my clients,” Hynes explained.
Hon. Michael Brennan, a Vietnam veteran, compared the drug-court issue to the way veterans used to be treated after coming back home. He explained that just as veterans used to be blamed for the war, the victims of drug abuse shouldn’t be blamed for their problems. Instead, society should continue to try to get them help throughdDrug court programs.
To conclude the event, Hynes made a motion that the 12 most recent Brooklyn Treatment Court graduates have their felony violations expunged. Judge Ferdinand granted the motion, dismissed the charges and ordered their records sealed.
Judge Ferdinand was presented with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ ceremonial gavel. Judge Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning in the NYS Court System, was also presented with the All Rise Leadership Award as well.