New York's first CASAT facility


Surprisingly, the first correctional institution in New York state to be reserved exclusively for the treatment of substance abuse was not located in an urban hotbed of alcoholism and drug trafficking. It was instead set up in the small town of Chateaugay (French for "happy house"), four miles from the Quebec border.

Chateaugay is nestled in the foothills north of the Adirondack Mountains between the Champlain and St. Lawrence valleys. Settled in 1795, it is the oldest town in Franklin County. The region's abundant lakes, springs, rivers, and woodlands soon attracted new settlers and, by the time of the Civil War, the community was home to more than 3,000 people. Grist mills, sawmills, a tannery, an iron foundry and a number of wholesale and retail businesses furnished employment. In 1875, the McCadam Cheese Company set up operations in Chateaugay and was soon the community's largest industry.

A century later, however, much of Chateaugay's business and industry had foundered. The only sizable employer remaining was McCadam, along with the local dairy farms which existed to supply it. Meantime, spurred by the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws, the state's prison population was rapidly rising. To accommodate the influx, the Department of Correctional Services began a flurry of new construction. Far from shunning the introduction of new prisons, Chateaugay and many other communities across the state desperate for growth opportunities -- competed for secure prison jobs. Finally, in 1989, the Prison Omnibus Bill directed that DOCS establish correctional treatment centers the addicted and alcoholic prisoners at six specifically-named locations. One of them was Chateaugay.

Rockefeller Drug Laws

The Prison Omnibus Bill of 1989 created the Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment Program (CASAT), including the correctional treatment centers. CASAT was the latest development in New York's evolving approach as alcohol and drug-related crime began to escalate in New York around 1960. In 1962, Governor Nelson A Rockefeller argued for a statewide treatment effort "to make it possible for many unfortunate victims of addiction, in trouble with the law because of their helpless dependence on drugs, to he rehabilitated and saved as self-respecting, self-reliant members of society." The Metcalf-Volker Act of 1962 permitted arrested addicts, whose crimes were not serious, to elect to receive treatment at a state hospital rather than be sentenced to a penal institution. As a result, 550 beds were added to the Department of Mental Hygiene.

Metcalf-Volker, however, did not work. Addicts tended to choose shorter jail terms over the state hospital program. Of the few who opted for treatment, nine out of 10 absconded and 80 percent were rearrested within a short time. The Governor's "humane, practical approach" neither cured addicts nor reduced street crime.

In 1967, Rockefeller increased criminal penalties for possession and sale. He also scrapped the voluntary feature of Metcalf-Volker in favor of compulsory treatment under conditions similar to incarceration. A Narcotic Addiction Control Commission (NACC) was created to operate "rehabilitation centers" to which addicts accused of crimes could be involuntarily committed.

But NACC also failed to make a dent in trafficking and drug-related crime. In 1973, Rockefeller gave up the dream of treatment and championed the "toughest anti-drug program in the country." The Rockefeller Drug Laws, as they have since been called, established a schedule of severe, mandatory prison sentences based on the type and quantity of the drug in question. The 1973 legislation also introduced a second felony offender provision which increased penalties for anybody with a prior felony conviction in the preceding 10 years.

In the short space of 10 years, Rockefeller had traveled the breadth of the spectrum: from treatment at the addict's request in lieu of punishment, to compulsory treatment in a punitive setting under NACC, to prison pure and simple and lots of it.

ASAT and Therapeutic Community Background

The first effect of the severe new laws was the prison population boom. A second effect was the collapse of the treatment programs that had been set up for addicted criminals. Accompanying the sudden need, however, was the availability of treatment personnel who no longer had jobs at NACC facilities. Many NACC staff transitioned to positions with the corrections department. Their presence inspired several prison superintendents to improvise programs at their facilities.

The first sustained, successful new program was developed at Woodbourne. Between 1967 and 1975, Woodbourne had served as the most secure unit of NACC's network of rehabilitation centers. When the abrupt end of the NACC program resulted in Woodbourne's reconversion to a standard prison in 1975, Woodbourne was almost immediately offering its new population of state prisoners an integrated program of counseling and drug and alcohol education.

Soon after Woodbourne's initiative, Mt. McGregor was developing a similar program. The new wrinkle was that Mt. McGregor set aside an entire housing unit to provide a "therapeutic community" environment for participants.

In 1977, the Department contracted with a private service provider, New York Therapeutic Communities, Inc., to establish "Stay'n Out" residential units at Arthur Kill and Bayview. By 1978, DOCS had initiated training programs for counselors from other facilities. A federal grant was obtained to establish a pilot program at the Tappan section of Sing Sing; another grant funded the appointment of paraprofessional alcohol rehabilitation assistants. New programs were soon operating at Taconic, Bedford Hills, Otisville and Coxsackie.

By 1984, the Department had expanded its chemical dependency programs to 20 facilities. From facility-initiated, independent programs, the effort had become system-wide and was coordinated from Central Office in Albany. The program was called ASAT, for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment.

Continued growth in the number of persons committed to prison for drug offenses persuaded the Legislature in 1987 to authorize a Shock Incarceration Program for young, non-violent offenders, with a concentrated ASAT component in a therapeutic community setting. Shock's success encouraged enactment two years later of the CASAT legislation.

Chateaugay CASAT

Chateaugay was the first alcohol and substance abuse correctional treatment center under the new legislation. The facility the northernmost of New York's 70 institutions was quickly erected on 100 acres, 20 of them inside a fence with razor ribbon and an electronic sensor system. The administration building is located just outside the fence. Inside are several one-story, cookie-cutter style buildings including four dormitories, a mess hall/kitchen, a visitors' building and an activity building with classrooms, libraries, gymnasium, multi-faith chapel, medical clinic and interview rooms.

DOCS' implementation plan for the CASAT program called for Chateaugay and the other centers to be operated as therapeutic communities. The therapeutic community concept - as developed at individual facilities and in Shock - embraces a thorough, ongoing and relentless concentration on recovery. The concentration is maintained in all activities, formal and informal, all day, every day. All staff -- security, program, administrative, and support are involved in the focus on recovery. Even the inmates eventually become part of the "treatment team," supporting and critiquing each others' progress.

Before the first inmates arrived on August 23, 1990, all Chateaugay staff received a two-week program of CASAT training including education and sensitization about addiction and alcoholism; behaviors and thinking of addicts and alcoholics; therapeutic community principles; the 12-Step approach; relapse triggers and prevention; temporary release issues and cooperation and teamwork. All were instilled with a firm sense of the facility's mission.

All security positions were filled by transfer from other facilities, but most of the civilian hires were off the street. Many of the new alcohol and drug counselors had experience with local private treatment centers, but had no familiarity with prison procedures and routines. They learned quickly, though, and their therapeutic community orientation probably led them to regard a rules breach as relapse-type behavior, so that they naturally tended to cooperate with security staff. The officers, for their part, were enthusiastic about their new role in CASAT as members of the treatment team. They reinforced the counselors' focus on recovery, and patiently imparted the necessary security consciousness to their young colleagues.

The Chateaugay Day

Chateaugay's inmates do not have much leisure time. Life in this therapeutic correctional treatment community is busy and highly structured.

Five days a week, Chateaugay's 245 inmates rise at 5:30 a.m. for showers, breakfast and housekeeping chores. At 8 a.m., the entire population assembles with the superintendent, treatment staff and representatives of the security staff. The daily "community meeting" is designed to foster the spirit of teamwork in the pursuit of the common aim of recovery. New inmates are introduced at these meetings, certificates of achievement may be awarded, and individual inmates or dormitories may make motivational presentations such as poetry readings or skits. In addition, there are separate meetings for residents of the individual dormitories: "house meetings" assure that group living concerns are addressed and that minor irritations do not smolder into real problems. Another half hour each day is set aside for mandatory physical training.

Formal programming occurs during the morning and afternoon modules (8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.). Inmates typically spend one module either in an academic classroom or in a work assignment (in the mess hall, for example, or on an outside community service assignment, or harvesting vegetables for donation to local food pantries). The other module is devoted to alcohol and substance abuse treatment: individual and group counseling, education respecting the nature of addiction and alcoholism, understanding habits and attitudes associated with addiction and the drug culture, training in recognition of relapse warning signs and avoidance techniques and other elements to help ensure a drug-free lifestyle.

The evening module (from 6 to 9 p.m.) is devoted to "hierarchy" meetings to discuss the organization of housing unit assignments and responsibilities, "self-help" groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, outside volunteer-led activities, recreation or unfinished housework.

"Mississippi Learning"

Within the parameters established by the Legislature and DOCS, Chateaugay officials were responsible for designing the new program. Chateaugay not only inspired the CASAT annexes that opened later, but its influence has reached beyond the boundaries of New York state.

While at a facility in Mississippi, an American Correctional Association accreditation auditor heard officials express a desire to establish a counseling program to reduce the revolving door recidivism common among alcoholics and drug addicts. The auditor had recently been a member of the team which accredited Chateaugay. He recommended Chateaugay as an excellent model. Mississippi contacted the superintendent who suggested they visit when the snows had melted. Five officials from the Mississippi Department of Correction arrived in May, 1996 and sloshed around for three days in 10 inches of new fallen snow. Otherwise, they were pleased with the Chateaugay CASAT program, and later asked three Chateaugay staff members to travel to Mississippi to assist them in starting a prison-based therapeutic community in their state.

Delbert Boone visited Chateaugay later in 1996. Boone, a well-known speaker and producer of documentary films on addiction and recovery, addressed the inmate population on the subject of marijuana abuse. His presentation was videotaped for distribution by the George Whitaker Corporation.

After Chatcaugay-Further Development of CASAT

Inmates are assigned to CASAT with the expectation that they will spend six months in the residential phase of the program, then at least six more months on work release or day reporting status while participating in a community based therapeutic program.

The third and final stage of the CASAT program consists of living at home under the supervision of the Division of Parole, with continued participation in treatment as a special condition of parole.

Chateaugay, opening in August, 1990, was the first operational CASAT annex. Butler, Hale Creek and Marcy opened later in the year. Additional annexes opened at Arthur Kill and Taconic (for women) in 1992, and at Cape Vincent in 1993.

An eighth annex opened at Livingston in 1994, but phased out in 1995, when the pool of CASAT-eligible inmates was reduced by Governor Pataki s order that violent felons would no longer be approved for temporary release and by the opening that year of Willard Drug Treatment Center,

These seven CASAT facilities range in size from 184 beds (Butler) to 400 (Hale Creek) with a total of 1,820 beds.

A recent report by the Department's Research unit estimates that, from August, 1990 through the close of 1997, the CASAT program generated cost savings to state taxpayers of over $227 million. This includes operational savings (from the lower cost of Phase II, when participants are in temporary release) and capital savings (from avoiding the need for constructing general confinement housing for newcomers by moving Phase I graduates to temporary release).

The same research study indicates that the eight-year CASAT program has achieved the goal of reducing recidivism by alcoholics and drug addicts, a group generally representing a notoriously poor risk for leading law-abiding lives in the community. At 24 months after release to parole, 21 percent of male CASAT participants had returned to prison, compared to 31 percent of non-CASAT parolees after 24 months. For females, the return rates were 14 percent for CASAT graduates and 18 percent for other parolees.

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Article is from DOCS TODAY April 1999