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Judicial Branch forms task force to study feasibility of opioid intervention courts

September 15, 2018

Does Connecticut need courts dedicated specially to drug-dependent defendants?

The state’s criminal justice leaders will explore that concept of drug courts over the next three months.

The Judicial Branch has created a task force to study the feasibility of establishing Opioid Intervention Courts as required by a law that was enacted during the last legislative session.

The task force will meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, and on Wednesday, Oct. 17, and Monday, Nov. 5, as it prepares to report back to the General Assembly by Jan. 1. The meetings will take place at the Torrington Courthouse.

One of the first orders of business will be to look at programs currently available to help defendants who are dependent on drugs, according to the agenda. The Judicial Branch indicated in testimony to the Judiciary Committee that the branch, along with the Department of Correction and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, has many programs to address drug and opioid abuse and performs drug screening, intervention programs and other alternatives to incarceration through the regular course of business.

“The Judicial Branch has incorporated many of the principles of drug courts into all dockets and currently provides the same level of services to people in need of treatment from any docket,” the written testimony said.

The Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which represents the public and private lawyers who defend those who are opioid-dependent, submitted testimony in support of drug courts, indicating they previously had existed in Connecticut but were phased out due to budgetary constraints and other considerations.

“Drug addiction has become one of the many social problems that has been relegated to the criminal justice system,” said the CCDLA written testimony. “But as with homelessness and mental illness, handcuffs and jail cells haven’t made things better and have cost much more than the treatment and services that can. It doesn’t have to be this way. America can safely reduce incarceration.”

Public Act 18-166 requires the chief court administrator, in consultation with the chief public defender, chief state’s attorney, and the University of Connecticut School of Law’s dean, to study the feasibility of establishing courts that specialize in criminal or juvenile matters where a defendant is an opioid-dependent person who could benefit from intensive court monitoring and treatment. 

One of the Judicial Branch programs already in place at some state courthouses, including the Broad Street, New London, courthouse known as Geographical Area 10, is in the Treatment Pathway Program, in which some arrestees work with social workers to get into treatment rather than prison.

Because of the high demand for intervention, GA10, the Norwich courthouse and courts in Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Haven and Hartford have an Early Screening and Intervention Program in which a part-time prosecutor and resource coordinator identify and work with people who are addicted. The program currently is funded by a grant from a private foundation.

According to Charlie Duffy, a local volunteer and activity who works as a part-time consultant for Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane, the program at GA10 has been operating since May and has served dozens of people. 

“There’s a variety of men and women who have got issues and histories,” Duffy said by phone Friday afternoon. “One of the important things about the program is that the prosecutors are getting information, and the court, about details of the person’s life and situation and about alternative treatment programs, so they can use all of it as the basis for making appropriate decisions about what to do with a case.”

k.florin@theday.com

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