Drug court: alternative to traditional justice

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Proposed drug court is a way to break the cycle of criminal activity and the stranglehold of addiction

By Lisa Schlichtman

Establishing a drug court in Barry County has become a priority issue shared by Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox and Associate Circuit Court Judge Victor Head.

Cox has been an advocate of the program since he was elected prosecutor in 2003 and Judge Head expressed his support for a drug court when he took the bench in January 2007.

Back in May, the two men assembled a planning team to help them accomplish the formidable task of getting a drug court up and running in Barry County.

Team members include: Nancy Foulke, Probation and Parole; Cindy Puryear, court clerk; Don Trotter, defense attorney; Earl Best, Clark Mental Health Center; Lisa Schlichtman, editor of the Cassville Democrat; Dana Kammerlohr, lieutenant with the Barry County Sheriff's Department and county DARE officer; Head; and Cox.

The team has also benefitted from the involvement of Ann Wilson, alcohol and drug abuse coordinator with the Office of the State Courts Administration, and Kerry Nelson, probation and parole district supervisor, who has vast experience with drug courts in neighboring counties.

The group has been holding meetings about once a month for the past five months and has applied for state funding to attend drug court planning seminars next year.

"We are in the formative stages of establishing a drug court in Barry County," said Judge Head. "I have been aware of the success of drug courts in Missouri for several years and believe that Barry County can benefit from that success."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the mission of drug courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity.

Drug court is not a way for offenders to escape punishment. Instead, drug court is often considered more intense than straight probation.

Drug courts offer offenders the opportunity to participate in intensive treatment for their drug or alcohol addiction. A team approach is utilized in the drug court system, which involves the judge, probation officers, law enforcement, the prosecutor and treatment professionals.

Those who choose to enter the drug court system undergo intensive scrutiny that involves frequent urine analysis and court visits and adherence to a consistent course of treatment. Drug court participants are also required to seek employment or work on obtaining an education.

"The drug court model is an intensive, closely monitored plan for offender rehabilitation," said Cox. "If people who are currently addicted to drugs or alcohol and are committing crimes, drug court gives them the tools to stop their criminal behavior and become wage earning, productive, law-abiding citizens."

One of the reasons drug courts are successful is because of accountability factors built into the system.

"Offenders are required to attend court more often than the current standard and are held accountable for their actions," said Judge Head.

Cox also finds the philosophy behind the drug court model an appealing prospect.

"Drug court is heavily laden with accountability," said Cox. "That means that if a person is doing well, they will be given recognition for it, and if they are messing up, they will have immediate consequences. In the normal probation model the supervision isn't as intensive.

"People in drug court aren't babied but often they have never had anyone who will give them a pat on the back for doing the right thing," added Cox.

The benefits of drug court are multi-faceted. By helping offenders leave the criminal justice system and lead productive lives, drug court ultimately saves taxpayers' money.

On average, it costs an offender around $6,000 to complete the drug court program. By contrast, it costs about $30,000 a year to house a prisoner.

"Drug court has been proven to be a cost-effective method for diverting non-violent offenders from incarceration in prisons, which will have a positive effect on taxpayers," said Judge Head. "Drug court will also help reduce the number of offenders who seek medical care and the services of the Social Services Department."

Drug court can also save lives and preserve families.

"I really hope that the drug court can take people whose lives are being controlled or destroyed by substance abuse and make them into clean, sober and useful members of the community," said Cox.

"Drug court has the capability to break the cycle of crime and addiction and improve community safety," said Judge Head. "I hope that drug court will save lives and stop the cycle of generations of families who use alcohol and drugs."

This article is the first in a series of articles that will focus on Barry County's proposed drug court. A planning team, headed by Associate Circuit Court Judge Victor Head, has been meeting since May to begin the process of establishing a drug court in Barry County.

Over the next few weeks, the Cassville Democrat will provide indepth coverage of the drug court concept and offer readers the opportunity to learn more about the program, which local officials believe will have a lasting and positive impact on the Barry County community as a whole. This week's article introduces the concept to our readers and future articles will provide additional details about the program's success and how it works in other counties. We also hope to be able to offer an interview with someone who has successfully completed drug court.
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: