Opiate Crisis Intervention Court: Buffalo, NY

Judge Craig D. Hannah’s Intervention Court is not your typical drug court. Two kinds of defendants enter the courtroom: those having their cases considered in the usual way, and those invited to step closer to the judge himself. All face criminal charges, but those stepping closer have volunteered to take part in an experiment where the primary goal is to save their lives. Participants are facing charges related to addiction, in what is believed to be the nation’s first opioid court. The measure of success is preventing death, and recognizing that failure is part of the recovery process. Participants are required to appear daily before Judge Hannah, a judge who was once also addicted to drugs. Judge Hannah speaks to the defendants as his peers, leaving the legal jargon behind, and trying to connect with them on a simple level of how they might be feeling from one day to the next. If his defendants use, they will be returned to criminal court to face their charges. If they agree to treatment but no beds are available, they wait. But if they complete the program – going 60 days without drugs – their charges will likely be reduced or dropped all together. The program is young, starting last May, but many others are already looking to Buffalo as the model. To learn more about some of the current participants, and Judge Hannah’s views on helping addiction through his courtroom, visit here.