Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF
BRIAN FISCHER, COMMISSIONER
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES

Provided To
ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEES ON
CODES, JUDICIARY, CORRECTION, HEALTH,
ALCOHOLISM AND DRUG ABUSE, AND SOCIAL SERVICES
MAY 8, 2008

IMPACT OF THE ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS

From the perspective of the Department of Correctional Services, it is important to distinguish between the programmatic requirements of, and the criminal penalties imposed by, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and to recognize what is expected of this agency in terms of treatment and reentry preparation of inmates with drug and alcohol abuse problems.

The Department of Correctional Services is responsible for any offender who is sentenced to prison, regardless of the crime. Individuals who are sentenced for crimes not directly related to a drug conviction but who have drug dependency problems are provided treatment in the same manner as those convicted of possession or sale of a controlled substance.

Changes to the Rockefeller Drug Laws in terms of what constitutes a drug offense or what term of sentence may be imposed are matters for the Legislature and the courts. Although courts have the authority to order certain inmates into our Comprehensive Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) program, the impact on the Department of Correctional Services in most cases involves who enters the system and for how long, not whether or not that person would receive treatment. As such, the following comments are meant to provide your committees with an overview of the Department’s drug and alcohol programs.

At our reception centers, we use two screening instruments to determine whether drug and/or alcohol abuse is an issue for the new inmate: the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) for alcohol abuse and the Simple Screening Instrument (SSI) for drug abuse. These two screening instruments are used in treatment agencies throughout the country.

The information generated by the applicable screening instrument, as well as a counselor interview, identifies need, and the inmate's name is placed on a required program list. This is done at inmates’ initial interviews, at the general confinement facility where they are assigned.

Of our 70 correctional facilities, 67 run substance abuse programs. These programs meet the needs of the inmate population in scope, content and modality. They include the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT), CASAT, Residential Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT), Shock Incarceration, Parole Violator Re-entry at Chateaugay, Community Reintegration Outpatient Treatment (Work Release), Mentally Ill/Chemically Addicted (MICA), Female Trauma Recovery and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) programs. The needs assessment determines which program best meets the needs of the inmate.

This year, through March 31, DOCS determined that 88 percent of first-time offenders who were released from prison - 3,763 inmates in all – needed substance abuse programs. Of those, 89.8% were offered such programs in prison, and 78.1% successfully completed a substance abuse program before release.

Pre-release or re-entry begins on day one at Correctional Services. We conduct an assessment of each inmate and develop an individualized program plan that includes academic education, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, aggression replacement training and sex offender treatment. The assessment is reviewed by qualified counseling staff throughout the incarceration process.

Data clearly shows that inmates needing substance abuse treatment also need education, vocational training and aggression counseling. The median stay for inmates with drug offenses is 17.5 months.

Each inmate is placed into programs based upon the number of program needs that must be met as well as the inmate’s time until expected release.

Facility Parole staff are aware of the substance abuse treatment and other programming that an inmate undertakes. Furthermore, when the offender is released to the community, the Division of Parole works with community agencies in assessment and placement (whether in-patient or out-patient) depending upon the substance abuse needs.

Our Willard Drug Treatment Campus is an example of an alternative program that works. Developed as directed by the Omnibus Sentencing Reform Act of 1995, Willard is a licensed, 90-day Intensive Residential Treatment Program. It is based on the Shock Incarceration Model, with interagency cross-functional team involvement. Within three days of an inmate’s arrival, a preliminary treatment plan is prepared, and within 30 days, the treatment plan is completed and the discharge plan is commenced.

Parolees are evaluated weekly in the areas of alcohol and substance abuse, education, drill and network (decisional and life skills). A release plan with a specified level of care is completed by the Division of Parole. All parolees are released to an OASAS-licensed residential day treatment, or out-patient, substance abuse program.

Although a three-year follow-up of judicially-sanctioned Willard participants who graduated between 2000 and 2002 found minimal differences in DOCS incarceration rates between Willard JS graduates (43% entered DOCS within three years), Willard Extended graduates (41%) and a comparison group of similar releases from DOCS (38%), the majority of post-graduate incarcerations resulted from technical violations of parole.

When rates of incarceration for new felony offending were examined, extended Willard participation made a difference. The three-year new felony rates for the three groups were 11% for Willard JS, 11% for the comparison DOCS releases and only 6% for Willard Extended.

Another alternative program is the Edgecombe Residential Treatment Facility in Upper Manhattan, which began operating April 1, 2008. New York City-area parolees who would normally be sent to an upstate correctional facility for violating their conditions of parole primarily in connection with substance abuse are given the alternative of participating in a Diversion Program of up to 30 days. This soon-to-be OASAS-licensed program is designed for technical violators who have not committed a new felony. The program is a collaborative effort of DOCS, Parole, OASAS and the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Individuals are assessed and placed in an intensive program designed to meet their substance abuse and related issues (family and employability). As participants proceed through the program, Edgecombe staff complete regular assessments that impact the discharge treatment plan, i.e. in-patient or out-patient substance abuse treatment.

The Department of Correctional Services strives to provide a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program to a wide range of prisoners, and an even wider range of programs to meet the needs of prisoners, both while they are incarcerated and when they are preparing for their return to their communities.