Drug court, Barry County's new justice alternative, took center stage during Tuesday's quarterly luncheon sponsored by the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce and members of the Barry County Drug Court Planning Team.
Associate Circuit Court Judge Victor Head, Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox, Probation Officer Nancy Foulke and Drug Court Coordinator Cindy Puryear took turns speaking about drug court to an attentive audience of around 60 chamber members who gathered in the new Crowder College Cassville Campus auditorium on Business 37.
Members of the planning team, which also include Capt. Dana Kammerlohr, Don Trotter, Earl Best and Lisa Schlichtman, have been working to establish a drug court in Barry County since May of 2007, and in May of this year, the group accepted its first four participants and has been holding twice monthly drug court sessions for the past four months.
Currently, there are five participants actively engaged in Barry County Drug Court process, according to Judge Head.
"Basically we're dealing with offenders who have committed a criminal offense that is directly related to drugs or drugs were involved in the commission of the offense," said Judge Head. "This is an intense form of probation, a way to try to get someone back on track, a way for them to get their life turned around and off drugs so they can become a productive citizen."
To be eligible for the program, a person must be at least 18 years old, reside in Barry County, be charged with a non-violent felony drug or drug-related crime and acknowledge they have a substance abuse problem. Extensive interviews and screenings are conducted before a participant is accepted into the program through an application process.
According to Cox, it costs approximately $3,300 to send a person through the drug court program, which is a quarter of the $14,000 its costs to house an offender in prison for a year. In addition, drug court participants are required to pay $1,200 of the total program costs.
"We're looking to stop the substance abuse issue that often drives the other crimes they are committing," said Cox. "We're actually saving taxpayers money and helping folks become taxpaying, productive citizens in the process."
Foulke spoke about the impact drug court was already having on the lives of the participants. She said she asked each participant to tell her what drug court meant to them and Foulke shared several of their responses.
One participant said he liked being able "to be clean and stay clean," which was something he hadn't been able to do for 10 years.
Another participant was quoted as saying: "The best part of sobriety has been that I can deal with my problems, and I came back to reality. If I hadn't come into drug court, I would be dead by now."
Foulke described the intensive supervision provided through the drug court model. Since the program began 16 weeks ago, Foulke estimates that each participant has been involved in 37 office visits, 32 treatment sessions, 33 urine screens and five home visits.
"Our participants are eager and happy to be a part of the program and they follow through with what they are supposed to do," said Foulke, explaining the difference between her drug court participants and regular probationers.
Puryear ended the drug court presentation by asking community members to help support the program. Due to state budget cuts, Barry County Drug Court did not receive any funding from the state for the coming year.
"We have hope for these people, and we're not giving up," said Puryear.
The Drug Court Planning Team will continue to pursue state funding for next year but in the meantime are trying to raise money through fundraising events.
One of the group's first major fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Cassville Golf Course. Area golfers are encouraged to participate in the first annual Barry County Drug Court Golf Tournament.
The entry fee for the four-person scramble is $50 per golfer and $200 per team. Area businesses can also become hole sponsors for $150. All proceeds from the tournament, which also includes lunch and fabulous prizes, will directly benefit the Barry County Drug Court.
For more information or to get involved, call Puryear at 847-3133.