I would like to thank Isle-de-Grande and the League of Women Voters for the opportunity to participate in this program. To be effective, the courts must have the trust and confidence of those they serve. Many people assume that “winning” and “losing” are the main concerns of citizens when they come to court. In my experience, that is not the central focus of many clients. They are more concerned with the basic issues. Were they treated fairly? Did the judge truly listen to their side of the story? Why did they have to wait so long? Did the Judge, Prosecutors and court staff treat them with respect? Was the judge overbearing or arrogant? “How was Justice Administered?
If elected, I would periodically ask all citizens, lawyers, witnesses and litigants, when exiting the court building, to voluntarily, anonymously and confidentially fill out a survey as to their experience in my courtroom. This would give me a benchmark on the quality of court as well as the concerns of our citizens. It would show me what we did well and where improvement is needed. We would strive to do better. How can we know where we are going, if we don’t know where we are?
In walking the neighborhoods of Grand Island, I was surprised at the number of people who said that they have never been in our town court. Keeping that in mind, I think it’s important for people to understand what happens procedurally when they walk into the court. Many people are absolutely “stressed out” when they have to appear in court. They do not know what to expect, the fear of the unknown is the worst. I will strive to conduct an open courtroom, to put these fears to rest through education. We could sponsor seminars at our courthouse, like an “Open House”. Parents and children of all ages would be welcome. This would be a dual benefit as it could be tied into specific educational programs for the middle and high schools.
I sincerely believe the best way to improve the administration of justice in our community is to reduce the number of incidents which are brought before the court. The less crime, the more resources are available to rehabilitate and change learned behavior, reducing recidivision, which means defendants coming back to the court on a second or subsequent occasion. The system does not become overtaxed and people do not slip through the cracks. More time and effort can be used. How does one reduce crime?
One of the best approaches to reduce crime is through education. This is even more important when young adults commit crimes. I am a strong believer in the DARE Programs, which presently are conducted in our 5th grade classrooms. These programs should be expanded into the later grades with an emphasis on the problems and issues faced by older teens, including drug and alcohol abuse, date rape and anger management. Education can help our kids learn how to address and handle a situation to keep it from spiraling out of control. Life skills can be taught that can be of use in many of life’s complex situations.
I would like our court to work closely with Trooper Christopher Pyc, the Police Liaison Officer at Grand Island High School. Over the years the Liaison program has been instrumental in reducing and solving crimes not only in our schools but outside as well. This resource should be used even more.
I would endeavor to streamline the length of time it takes to resolve a ticket. Too often a citizen will spend his or her entire evening at the court. I would look at alternatives, perhaps staggering the court times, in an attempt to reduce the time involved.
To further improve the administration of justice I would seek to enhance our Domestic Violence Court. Nationwide studies show an average of 5.9 million domestic assaults annually. Victims of domestic violence often face difficult decisions concerning their children's needs and emotional attachment or the financial dependence on the abuser.
Some time ago Erie County instituted a top-notch program called the Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDVC). Many times the parties would be involved in a criminal case in town court, maybe two different town courts, as well as one pending Family Court for custody, and another family court case for child support. This could result in four different judges, different attorneys and different and conflicting orders of protection. It was a procedural nightmare, especially when factoring in lost time from work and scheduling conflicts. Each Judge wanted to know what was happening in the other forums and the cases never seemed to get resolved. The procedural needs of the court sometimes conflicted with the actual safety of the victim. For the first time, IDVC brought all the parties together in one court, with one judge passing on all the issues. The need for this program was obvious.
By combining all these diverse and conflicting courts into one court, one prosecutor, and one judge symmetry was established. All the people involved with the case are up to speed.
In order to enhance our court’s Domestic Violence Court I would do the following:
2. Notify the victim IN ADVANCE of defendant's pending release from custody.
Judicial ethics absolutely prohibit a judicial candidate from discussing his or her view on cases, which may come before the court. For the size of our town, I am always surprised at the number of DWI arrests on Grand Island. As a former police officer and Certified Breath Test Operator, I have the unique experience of having arrested people for DWI. As an attorney, I have not only represented people for DWI but have also represented the victims of drunk drivers.
In order to improve the administration of justice in or court as it relates to the drinking driver, I would strive to identify the various categories associated with drunk drivers. Researchers generally agree that there are 5 to 10 groups of offenders with significantly different characteristics. These differences can make it harder to detect specific program effects such as, Education programs, Out-Patient Alcoholism treatment programs, In-Patient Alcoholism treatment programs, Incapacitating sanctions such as ignition locks, vehicle forfeiture or incarceration.
Although the effectiveness of incarceration is always a question, many times the desire to avoid jail is incentive enough for offenders to comply with specific sanctions. Jail sentences also can provide an opportunity to place DWI offenders into residential treatment programs.
Grand Island currently has an existing Drug Court
There is a little doubt as to the connection between addiction and criminal behavior. To break this cycle the drug court must have the authority to intervene with criminal offenders who are charged with the purchase or possession of a controlled substance. To break the cycle of addiction and criminal conduct, a variety of individualized treatment services must be utilized to restore the individual as a productive member of society. Treatment goals include abstinence, improved life management skills, improved interpersonal relationships, and involvement in community support groups.
Finally, another way to improve the administration of justice is the establishment of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) through mediation. In mediation the parties have a better opportunity to control the outcome of the dispute. The mediator is impartial and trained to help the parties talk specific needs and differences so that the parties work things out together. Mediation may help people reach agreements that will let them get on with their lives and possibly keep everyone out of court in the future. In mediation you may discover choices you did not know you had. Costs associated with mediation may be lower than those experienced for prolonged litigation.
I would seek to educate Grand Islanders about the potential benefits of mediation rather than the “I’m taking you to court” attitude. Many times in small claims cases and neighbor disputes there may be winner and a loser, but no resolution to the problems that gave rise to the dispute. A sorry tale.
WOULD YOU UTILIZE ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION?
I have been in criminal courts both as a police officer and as an attorney for almost 30 years. Clients have been sentenced anywhere from probation to 10 years in jail, and every combination in between. When does someone deserve to go to jail? When does someone deserve probation? When would someone benefit from an alternative to incarceration? These are serious questions that your next town justice will have to answer on a regular basis?
Every case must be evaluated on an individual basis. Judges are prohibited from even giving the impression of what will happen in a specific case. However, it can be safely said, that prior to sentencing a judge must weigh all the options available to the court at the time of sentencing, which include alternatives to incarceration.
One tool the town court has in sentencing a defendant is the Pre-Sentence Report. It is used in determining sentences in misdemeanor cases, which carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail. The court orders this report when a defendant pleads guilty or is convicted. It is completed by the Erie County Department of Probation after interviewing the defendant, victim, arresting officers and sometimes family members. It is the number one sentencing tool used by the court. The defense attorney has the right to submit a Sentencing Memorandum to the court at time of sentencing, which I often have prepared as an attorney and which can be quite helpful to a sentencing Judge . The probation officer makes a sentencing recommendation to the court in the Pre-sentence Report, as does the defense attorney in his Sentencing Memorandum. The judge must then decide, based on these reports and statements made by the defendant and victim at sentencing, what would be an appropriate sentence. These sentencing could include a referral to Drug Court, Youth Court, Man to Man(domestic violence), Anger Management or other County programs. See attachment
ARE THERE SUFFICENT ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
Certainly the County of Erie has numerous programs from mental health to drug addition. I fear that with County budget cuts, many of these programs may be lost. I have included a list of the most well known programs, with a brief description from their web sites. See attachment
As for the young defendant, the First Time/Last Time program is top-notch. Over the years I have had many of my teenage clients complete this program, which attempts to be as the name suggests, a plan for a young defendant to make his first experience with the system also be his last. Some truly have taken it to heart and did just that. The program is sponsored by the NCCJ, in cooperation with the Erie County Holding Center and the Correctional Facility for youths between the ages of 16 and 21 who enter the system for the first time. In an effort to prevent them from returning to incarceration, this program is designed to assist youths by providing direction and vital services.
First Time/Last Time provides services such as:
§ counseling on both an individual and family basis,
§ referrals to drug and alcohol programs,
§ referrals to educational programs such as a high school equivalency, assistance with vocational planning and employment
The Grand Island Youth Court is an intrical part of our town’s alternative sentencing program, Given the likelihood of County budget cut we must strive to keep this program available to our youths.
ERIE COUNTY DAY REPORTING
This program is a subdivision of the RUS (Release Under Supervision) program that offers defendants, who are in need of intensive drug and/or alcohol treatment, a weekly six-day treatment option that offers not only intensive treatment but concurrent, daily supervision through the Probation Department
ERIE COUNTY INTENSIVE SUPERVISION PROGRAM
This program began operation in 1979. The Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) is an Alternative to Incarceration operation provided to superior courts and Local Conditional Release Commissions by participating probation departments. ISP offers a credible sentencing and community supervision option for offenders who would otherwise be incarcerated. Agency services provided are primarily eligibility assessments, court ordered restrictions, monitoring, field supervision and intensive supervision.
ERIE COUNTY PRETRIAL RELEASE SERVICES
This project provides all criminal court clients, initially unable to post bail, the opportunity to be interviewed to determine eligibility for release from jail. The interview process objectively assesses the defendant's qualifications for release through release on his/her own recognizance (ROR), or, where the court determines the risk of absconding to be greater, through release under supervision (RUS). Program operations include screening, eligibility determinations, monitoring functions where appropriate, and court notification of those who fail to satisfy release requirements.
ERIE COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT
This is an agency of county government. Services include adult and juvenile probation supervision and pre-sentence investigations including Family Court Intake, Conditional Release Program, Adult and Juvenile Intensified Supervision Programs (ISP), Domestic Violence Unit, Juvenile Delinquent Mental Health Diversion Unit, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Unit, Adult Developmentally Disabled Program and the Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) Diversion Unit. Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) services include pretrial services, community service sentencing, Drug Reporting Program and Adult and Juvenile Release Under Supervision Units in addition to the recently started Sex Offender Supervision and Treatment Program.
ERIE COUNTY WOMEN'S RESIDENTIAL RESOURCE CENTER
This program began operation in 1985. Agency services are primarily residential services including court ordered restrictions, housing assistance, job placement assistance, intensive case management, crisis counseling, educational services, recreational services and referral for drug and alcohol rehabilitation
The Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (DPCA) funds and oversees a variety of pretrial services and correctional alternative programs throughout New York State, often referred to as Alternative to Incarceration or ATI programs. These programs may fall under the authority of governmental or non-profit agencies. They operate in conjunction with the criminal justice system in all New York State counties and the City of New York.
Currently, DPCA funds programs designed to reduce reliance on pretrial detention and/or incarceration and operate in a manner consistent with public safety. The following are examples of alternative to detention and incarceration measures and programs funded through DPCA in New York State:
The Erie County Shared Population Program
This program is using an integrated service approach for addressing mentally ill defendants and offenders supervised by Erie County Probation Department in their community working with the Erie County Department of Mental Health, Forensic Mental Health and Horizon Health Services, Inc. The model features the utilization of a therapeutic team review of defendants at several points in criminal justice process. Intensive case planning and individualized treatment plans are conducted with all enrollees using a person-centered approach
Description: Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services is a private, not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse and has provided treatment in the community of over 20 years.
Family Addiction Outpatient Services
Description: The substance abuse outpatient clinic provides counseling for adults, families and adolescents, ancillary services are available and include parenting classes, childcare, vocational counseling, and job development. The outpatient clinic provides a unique bi-lingual/ bicultural program for Spanish speaking individuals
Renaissance House & Stepping Stones
The Renaissance Campus is a 62-bed residential treatment program offering a continuum of care for chemically dependent adolescents.
The Campus consists of three treatment facilities: Renaissance House, Stepping Stones and Promise House, as well as the Rosa's Resource Center, home to the Kids Escaping Drugs Campaign. The facilities offer a safe and supportive environment where adolescents can recover, learn responsibility and re-enter the community with the tools to live a drug-free lifestyle. A qualified and caring staff offers encouragement and counsel 24 hours daily through a myriad of therapeutic activities. At the Renaissance Campus, we believe that chemical dependency is a treatable disease. This disease does not discriminate against age, race, gender, culture or economic background. Our treatment program is compatible with our belief that each individual has personal worth and dignity had the ability to abstain from mood altering chemicals and posses the capacity to change. We also believe that chemical dependency affects the entire family and loved ones need to become part of the recovery process.
The adolescents at Renaissance Campus are referred by family physicians, schools, and the criminal justice system or may enter treatment at their own request. To be admitted to one of the treatment programs, a client will first be assessed by a member.
Terrace House Inpatient Rehabilitation Program
The treatment focus of the 31-bed rehabilitation unit is to provide patients with the skills necessary to maintain long-term recovery. The program features a specialized component for Hispanics in which all treatment is conducted in Spanish.
Description: Ivy House is a 17-bed community residence for men who have completed an inpatient rehabilitation program but need continued support to maintain recovery. Qualified staff is available on-site 24 hours each day.
Casa Di Vita
Description: Casa Di Vita is an 18-bed community residence for women who have completed an inpatient rehabilitation program but need continued support to maintain recovery. Qualified staff is available on-site 24 hours each day.
Description: The Supportive Living program assists residents in their efforts to become economically self-sufficient and to remain free of drugs and alcohol while learning to cope with real life situations and pressures. Clients live independently in apartment units.