Good news-bad news

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Barry County Drug Court is currently facing a good news-bad news scenario. The good news is that the Court is up and running with five participants currently assigned to the program. The bad news is the Court was denied funding from the Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA).

The grant denial came as a big blow to the Barry County Drug Court Planning Team, especially in light of all that has been accomplished over the past year. Team members had been working closely with the drug court expert from OSCA to develop a program that would meet the needs of Barry County while also following the state protocol for setting up such a program. The team was also able to successfully land a grant for week-long drug court training through the National Drug Court Institute, which usually leads to receiving state grant assistance.

It is the team's understanding that OSCA decided to cut some funding from existing drug court programs and not fund any new drug courts for two years. In our opinion this is the wrong decision to make. We know it all comes down to budgets and money. In this situation, we believe OSCA should receive the appropriations it needs to fully fund existing drug courts while also planning to expand the very successful concept into other counties that show initiative and progress toward establishing a drug court. The fact that this team was able to secure a competitive grant to attend national drug training and then come back, and within one month, get the program started, provides proof that Barry County is serious about the drug court program and ready to make sure it succeeds locally.

As a member of the Drug Court Planning Team, I attended training in LA, I have been meeting with members of the planning team for 13 months, and I have done a lot of research on the drug court concept. I firmly believe this program is something Barry County desperately needs. This program has a proven track record and offers an alternative to traditional sentencing that includes probation or time in prison. Statistics show that prison and straight probation aren't working for many of our drug offenders. I'm sure many of you read the Courthouse News section and see the same names printed over and over again. Usually, these are men and women who have a substance abuse problem and turn to criminal activity to support their habit. Prisons are full, so how do you decide to put a drug user behind bars knowing that to make room for that inmate someone has to be released. Instead of risking who will be turned lose, many drug offenders are placed on probation, and due to an overworked and underfunded system, there is not enough accountability for these probationers, and very little, if any, drug treatment options available.

Drug court addresses these problems by offering an alternative sentencing solution. Drug court participants plead guilty to their crime and then agree to participate in an intensive treatment program that also involves frequent drug tests, bi-monthly visits with the judge and community service. It's not an easier outcome for drug offenders; instead, drug court is considered much more stringent than probation. Drug court acknowledges that these individuals have a drug or alcohol addiction that led to their criminal behavior, and the program focuses on offering individuals the tools and resources they need to overcome their addiction and become contributing members of society.

Last Thursday afternoon, I attended my first drug court session in Barry County and I left even more determined to help find funding for this incredible program. It was amazing to see two of the participants stand before the judge and be congratulated for one month of sobriety. This accomplishment was received with applause, and the smiles on both participants' faces were worth all the effort our team has put forth over the past 13 months.

I share all of this with you, because we need the support of the entire Barry County community to make sure Drug Court is able to sustain itself into the future. We will continue to seek grants and will continue to lobby our elected state officials for the funding we believe they should be providing to us. Over the coming months, we will also be conducting a fund drive as well as hosting a number of different fundraisers. The first one on our calendar is a golf tournament at the Cassville Golf Club on Oct. 4. Members of our planning team, which include Circuit Court Judge Victor Head, Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox, Nancy Foulke, Cindy Puryear, Earl Best, Dana Kammerlohr, Don Trotter and myself, would also be more than happy to come and speak to your business or community organization about Drug Court and what we believe it can offer to the Barry County community.

In my own words, let me share with you what I think Barry County Drug Court can accomplish. I believe the program will save lives by offering hurting people a way out of the prison of their addiction, it will alter the revolving door nature of our traditional judicial system by offering offenders the tools they need to break the cycle of addiction and crime, it will reunite broken families, it will make Barry County a safer place to live and raise our families, and it will eventually have a positive impact on our drug problem by decreasing the demand for drugs as more and more drug users find help and hope.

Anyone who would like to get involved in helping support the Barry County Drug Court program is asked to contact me or one of the other planning team members. We also would like as many of you as possible to contact Rep. David Sater or Sen. Jack Goodman about the Barry County Drug Court program to find out if they can help secure funding from the state. A favorite quote of mine, which I've shared with our readers on numerous occasions, can be applied to the Barry County Drug Court at this stage. As Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."