Local Treatment Court finds success

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Alternative program to jail shows gains

Barry County Associate Circuit Court Judge Johnnie Cox said Treatment Court, the outgrowth of Barry County’s Drug Court now under a broader umbrella, continues to outpace state averages in percentages of completions and success as an alternative to incarceration.

Cox

Speaking to the Monett Kiwanis Club, Cox, who served as prosecutor at the inception of Drug Court in 2008 when it ran under Judge Victor Head, said the label of Treatment Court dispels some of the negative connotations of the earlier name. The term now also covers DWI Court, which started in 2011, as well as Veterans Court, which operates for both counties out of Mt. Vernon under Judge Scott Sifferman.

Drug Court and DWI Court focus on addiction problems that lead to criminal behavior. For those who have not avoided problems on probation, Treatment Court offers the last alternative before prison time. Cox said those who face criminal charges for a pending violent offense do not qualify. Many face a fourth or fifth DWI charge.

“Even Mothers Against Drunk Drivers got behind DWI Court,” Cox said. “We know people in rural areas are going to drive.”

DWI Court installs an ignition interlock device in vehicles, one that requires a breath test to get the car started, and takes a photo and random breath tests as long as the driver is in the vehicle.

All those in the DWI Court are in a treatment program with the Clark Center, and Drug Court are in a program through Alliance Counseling in Cassville. Those subjects, Cox said, are supervised closely, take urine analysis two or three times a week, and are seen in court every two weeks. A step down from Drug Court is supervision by a probation officer and attending self-help meetings.

All participants must engage in community service and pay some of the cost of the program. The fee to graduate is $2,400. Cox noted that because of fallout from the court irregularities in St. Louis County revealed in the Ferguson incidents, courts have tried to move away from “making people pay for justice.” In some cases, Cox said people pay what they can.

Presently, 35 participate in Treatment Court in Barry County, including nine in DWI Court. Of those, 27 are men and nine are women.

Veterans Court presently has 15 participants from Barry, Lawrence and Dade counties. The program started in Mt. Vernon due to its proximity to the Gene Taylor Veterans Clinic. When plans surfaced to move the facility to Springfield, Stone County Judge Alan Blankenship proposed starting a version of Veterans Court in Galena, which now has nine participants and is open also to residents in Taney County.

Cox reported new state legislation is under consideration to lessen the effects of jurisdictional lines in getting people into Treatment Court programs.

Barry County’s Drug Court initially received funding through a state grant. While such grants usually only run through one three-year cycle, Barry County’s program is now on an unusual third cycle.

“It’s a credit to how well our program is working,” Cox said.

According to 2014 statistics, Barry County’s Drug Court had a 68 percent completion rate, compared to 56.6 percent statewide. The local DWI Court had a 100 percent completion rate, compared to 89.4 percent statewide. Cox felt the numbers remained consistent with subsequent court sessions. He noted the DWI Court subjects were more stable and many held jobs, compared to the more chaotic lives of those in Drug Court.

In 2015, 54 percent of those entering Drug Court had a GED or better, a number that improved to 72 percent by the time they exited the program. Cox said subjects do not leave supervision until they complete their high school education requirement, and that the numbers have been even higher since. Female subjects have gone from 70 percent with the distinction to 93 percent.

Cox saw even greater success in employment. Half of men entering Barry County’s Drug Court Court had jobs, while 67 percent had jobs by the time they graduated. Statewide the average is 49 percent having jobs entering such a drug court program and 64 percent when they leave. The contrast was even more dramatic with women, who, coming into the local program, only 26 percent had jobs. When they left, 77 percent had jobs. Statewide, 32 percent of women had jobs entering a drug court, a number that rose to 60 percent by exit.

Stable housing also improved for local Drug Court participants. Only 37 percent of men entering the program had stable housing, a number that rose to 85 percent by exit. Of the females, 57 percent had stable housing at the beginning, rising to 80 percent by graduation, double the state average.

DWI Court numbers reflected even greater successes. Barry County’s program has had no recidivism, compared to 6 percent statewide. In having jobs, only 74 percent of DWI Court males subjects worked entering the program, and all had jobs at the end. Of the women, 48 percent had jobs at the start of the project, and 93 percent worked by the end.

“The goal is to get people back on the path of sobriety, to be working, taxpaying citizens contributing to society,” Cox said. “We had a man who had been sober for nine months. He said he had not done that since age 9. I’m amazed by such stories.”

Some people fall back into old habits once they complete Treatment Court. Looking at graduates, Cox said two years later, 6 percent of drug court participants had run into problems again. Since 2015, all of the DWI Court graduates have stayed sober.

“Without a peer support group, it may be that all of a person’s old friends and family are still using,” Cox said. “Some people need lifetime supervision. Knowing you’re going to be tested is what keeps them from using. If we can’t get them to stop, we may have to send them to the Department of Corrections for institutional treatment for four months, then bring them back and try again.

“If they fail out of the system, the most likely alternative is prison.”

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