Nonreligious Recovery Options Bill

image of NY State emblemACTION ITEM FOR NY REGISTERED VOTERS

LifeRing fully endorses NY Bill S5332, which requires written notice to a defendant of his or her right to complete court-ordered alcohol or substance use treatment in a nonreligious treatment program. This bill is now before senate. If you are a registered voter in New York State, please take a moment to review and support this bill.


This just in from Cara Berkowitz, New York State Senior Government Relations Leader and Acting Director of The Coalition of Behavioral Health and ASAP’s Policy Center

Great news - this bill S5332, will be voted on by the Senate TODAY! We are very optimistic that the bill will pass the Senate as it did last year, but it would be very helpful if before 1pm EST today your respective organizations could send an action alert (language below) or send a memo of support (template at conclusion of post) addressed to: 

  • Andrea Stewart-Cousins - scousins@gov | Senate Majority Leader
  • Carolyn Sheridan - csherida@nysenate.gov | Senior Policy Advisor, Senate Committee on Alcohol and Substance Abuse
  • Jonathan Lang - jlang@nysenate.gov | Senior Policy Advisor,  Senate Committees on Health, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities,

Action Alert Language

Dear (FIRST NAME),

We need your help to pass the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill (S5332). If passed, this bill would ensure that all individuals mandated by a court in New York to attend recovery support programs are provided with secular options. The bill has passed the Assembly and passed out of committee in the Senate, and is being brought to the Senate floor today for a vote.

If you live in New York, please take five minutes to make a phone call and/or send an email to your Senator using the instructions below. Hearing from even just a few local constituents can make a big difference.

Today, individuals with criminal justice involvement account for 47% of all treatment admissions to New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Support. However, the only support groups available for many participants are based on the traditional and faith-based 12-step model. Too often, individuals in the court system are denied access to nonreligious recovery options that are consistent with their values and personal beliefs.

We need our leaders to pass the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill to make sure New Yorkers have multiple pathways to recovery available to them, including secular options. Your voice can help make this a reality. Act now using the instructions below.

Thank you for your activism and continued support!

Sincerely,

(FILL THIS IN AS APPROPRIATE)

 

PHONE CALL INSTRUCTIONS:
If you get a voicemail, please leave a voicemail using the script below. If someone picks up, it will likely be staff. If you're extra short on time, the most important things to remember are to establish you are a New York voter, mention the organization you are affiliated with, and say you are calling to urge your Senator to support S5332, the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill.

Phone number: (518) 455-271

Script for phone call:

  • My name is (NAME). I'm a New York voter in (CITY/NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK) and a member of (ORGANIZATION)
  • I am calling to urge Senator (SENATOR's LAST NAME) to urge their support for (), the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill.
  • This bill is very simple—it will ensure that nonreligious recovery options are made available for individuals mandated by courts to attend substance use treatment programs.
  • This bill protects the First Amendment constitutional rights of individuals in the criminal justice system by preventing our state from coercing attendees to attend faith-based programs. Faith-based recovery programs work for many people, but not for everyone. This bill ensures that multiple pathways to recovery are available so that individuals can choose programs that will work for them.
  • I strongly urge the Senate to vote yes on S5332 the Nonreligious Recovery Options. Thank you.

 

EMAIL INSTRUCTIONS:
Simply copy-paste the subject line and text below and submit it on your Senator's website. You can find your Senator here. Feel free to edit the email and put it into your own words. If you have a personal connection to the issue, please feel free to share it.

SUBJECT LINE: Support S5332, Nonreligious Recovery Options

BODY: My name is (NAME). I'm a New York voter in (CITY/NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK) and a member of (ORGANIZATION). I am writing to urge Senator (SENATOR's LAST NAME) to urge their support for (), the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill.

This bill will ensure that nonreligious recovery options are made available for individuals mandated by courts to attend substance use treatment programs. It protects the First Amendment rights of individuals in the criminal justice system by preventing our state from coercing attendees to attend faith-based programs. While faith-based recovery programs work for many people, they do not work for everyone. This bill ensures that multiple pathways to recovery are available so that individual52525s can choose programs that will work for them.

 


Memo of Support: S05332 (Harkham) /A05074 (Epstein) 

Requires written notice to a defendant of his or her right to complete court-ordered alcohol or substance use treatment in a nonreligious treatment program. 

Background

The drug addiction epidemic continues to harm our communities, particularly younger New Yorkers and people of color. In 2021, New York City suffered nearly 2,700 drug overdose deaths, and today in New York someone fatally overdoses every three hours. Addressing this epidemic requires using every available tool at our disposal. 

By expanding treatment options and mandating that the state court system offer secular options, we can create a more equitable system that works for everyone. 

Issue

Incarcerated individuals represent 47% of all treatment admissions to New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports programs. Oftentimes the only support groups available for participants are based on the traditional twelve-step model. While these recovery programs can be effective, they frequently require submission to a higher power which courts have found to be religious in nature. Defendants may be not aware of their First Amendment right to access non-religious treatment programs. As a result, individuals can be denied access to secular treatment options. 

It is well-settled law that any individual mandated to attend recovery treatment must be provided with a secular option. Furthermore, offering various treatment paths can improve recovery outcomes. Forty-six percent of New Yorkers are religiously unaffiliated, and accordingly many New Yorkers may find faith-based options are not conducive to their recovery. Additionally, there are cases in which defendants and incarcerated individuals are outright denied a secular option when requested. This was the case in lawsuits in New York and in dozens of additional cases across the country. The problem is not limited to the court system either—in 2022, a Buddhist won a case against their employer and collected $305,000 in damages for being denied a secular recovery option. 

Legislative Solution

The Nonreligious Recovery Options bill has two purposes: to shift the burden from defendants to the courts to ensure judicial compliance with the Constitution while improving overall recovery outcomes. 

This bill requires New York’s courts, prior to specifying a substance use program, to inquire on the record if the defendant objects to a religious element of the program. If the defendant objects, the court would then be required to identify an alternative equivalent program to which the defendant has no religious objection, and confirm the defendant’s consent on the record. 

Regarding the latter—it’s about much more than aligning programs with a defendant’s values. Some faith-based settings stigmatize individuals using Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a life-saving and evidence-based tool strongly endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency devoted to substance abuse and mental health issues.

1 Comments

  1. Bees on May 30, 2023 at 8:53 am

    FYI — this item did not come across our desk until 6:56 AM Pacific. LifeRing direct mail and social media calls for action have been posted throughout the life of this Bill.

    Fingers crossed.