Assembly Passes Legislation to Increase Access to Problem-Solving Courts

Speaker Carl Heastie, Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol and Assemblymember Sandy Galef today announced the Assembly has passed legislation that would extend to every county in the state the authority to establish a local court or a division of a local court to address issues particular to specific types of victims and defendants, often referred to as “problem-solving courts.”

Since the first drug court was established in New York in 1998, problem-solving courts have grown to serve the unique needs of New Yorkers through Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, Human Trafficking Courts, Sex Offense Courts, Mental Health Courts and Veterans' Courts. This legislation will help the Office of Court Administration, judges and local governments create more of these courts in the state.

“Problem-solving courts have been proven to be effective in addressing the unique needs of New Yorkers involved in our court systems,” said Speaker Heastie. “These courts are often better able to respond to the needs of victims and defendants, using a holistic yet individualized approach in each case. Making these specialized courts available to more New Yorkers would be beneficial to everyone.”

“Problem-solving courts help end the cycle of crime by combining traditional penalties with treatment, training and community-focused problem solving,” said Assemblymember Lentol. “They have proven to be an extremely effective strategy for balancing the need for public safety with the goal of rehabilitation, and have the potential to help even more New Yorkers with this legislation.”

“The success of problem-solving courts has been clearly documented and replicated to help serve more New Yorkers across the state,” said Assemblymember Galef. “Problem solving courts have changed the way our system manages cases by identifying the underlying reasons that people end up in our court systems and employing innovative approaches to treat each case. This legislation will allow more New Yorkers to access these specialized courts.”

Under the bill (A.5937, Galef), appropriate pending cases could be transferred from one town or village court to another local court within the county that the Office of Court Administration has designated as a problem-solving court for that type of case. This would allow jurisdictions in which such courts are established to centralize similar cases, increasing efficiency and concentrating law enforcement and therapeutic resources for specific populations. Current law only expressly provides for certain drug-related cases and cases involving human trafficking victims to be transferred from one local court to another.

In 1998, New York created its first drug court in Rockland County through state enacted legislation. The model was so successful that the innovative approach was expanded to Suffolk and Tompkins Counties in 1999, and was virtually statewide by 2000. Since their creation, New York’s 141 drug treatment courts have served over 100,000 people suffering from the disease of addiction. Nearly 50,000 have graduated from the court’s rigorous treatment programs.

In 2008, New York established the nation’s first veterans' treatment court in Erie County. Since then, the concept of veterans' courts has expanded statewide and throughout the nation. Veterans' courts have been successful, in part, because many of these courts link troubled veterans with volunteer veteran mentors, who provide support and guidance for the veteran, and assistance to the veteran and the court.