GLENS FALLS — Twenty months ago, when Glens Falls City Court Judge Gary Hobbs began presiding over the region’s first court-sanctioned “opioid diversion program,” he wasn’t sure how well the program would go.
Hobbs and those who work with the program have gotten their answer, as it approaches its second year in existence. Thirty people have graduated the one-year treatment program, and the vast majority have stayed off drugs after they completed it.
“We have an 87 percent success rate of people becoming clean,” he said. “It has worked very well.”
That success rate has prompted the state Office of Court Administration to expand the program, to allow it to accept defendants from criminal cases filed in other courts in Warren County. The program has added a case manager, Bob Fish, who also oversees the Family Court Treatment Program in Washington County.
In addition to opioid addicts, the expanded program will be able to take in those addicted to other drugs, such as cocaine or prescription non-opioids.
Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said the expansion of the program is good news for low-level offenders with drug issues.
“It’s a hub court, so now we can involve defendants from other courts,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to involve more people in treatment.”
The City Court diversion program is similar to the “drug court” programs operated by most superior courts in New York, except that the City Court program handles misdemeanor cases in which judges don’t have the threat of a state prison term to hold over the participants’ heads. It is funded by the state court system and a state grant awarded to the Hudson Falls-based Council for Prevention.
A stint in the county jail doesn’t always scare addicts and criminals who have been in and out of the local facilities for years, so those involved with the Glens Falls program have to get creative to keep them from straying.
The Glens Falls program focuses on “challenging” the addicts to change their lives, using an intensive “adventure-based” program that takes them hiking, biking, kayaking and on other outings to keep them away from drugs.
The Council for Prevention and Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery provide staff to oversee outings, as well as the drug-counseling and drug-testing aspects of the program. The participants are monitored by Warren County Probation Department officers.
Those who slip up and break the rules face sanctions such as a jail term or expulsion from the program.
Participation is voluntary by defendants, who opt in after a vetting process that involves the court, Warren County District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel.
Hobbs, who is the supervising judge for the region’s town, village and city justice and judges, said the goal is to get them clean and change their behavior so that they don’t go back to drugs.
“We want to show them there are other ways to have fun that don’t involve drugs,” Hobbs said. “If you can break the cycle, you can really make a difference.”
Don Lehman covers police and court matters and Warren County government. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org