Court to curb drug offenders proposed

A proposed program designed to cut the number of drug users sent to jail has drawn support of some of the county’s top officials.

If established, the post-conviction drug court would offer nonviolent drug offenders a chance to plead guilty to their crimes and enter a judicially supervised program to shake their addiction to drugs.

The goal would be that they can turn their lives around and stay out of jail.

The program needs prosecutors, judges, law enforcement officers, lawyers and treatment programs for drug and mental health to work together for a participant to reform, one county official said.

“It’s a team effort,” said J.L. Brewer, director of the county’s community corrections program.

Brewer’s comments came during a recent meeting at Jackson Superior Court II in Brownstown of some officials who deal with issues related to illegal drug use and the criminal justice system.

Jackson Circuit Judge Richard Poynter said he’s in favor of establishing a drug court particularly for the younger generation, who are more likely to make a turnaround with their lifestyles.

He said the push for a drug court and initial research came out of a Leadership Jackson County project, an adult leadership organization.

Poynter said now is the time for this type of program to get underway because the county drug problem isn’t just about marijuana anymore, but heroin, morphine, Opana (opioid pain mediation) and needles.

“We have an expanding drug problem in this community, and it’s only getting worse,” Poynter said. “We’ve got to do something.”

Poynter said he would like to submit the drug court plan to the state and have it running by next year. The Jackson County Council would have to OK the funding.

The program would start off small, offering help to about 10 to 15 drug offenders at a time, Poynter said.

Brewer estimated a drug court in Jackson County would have a yearly operational cost of $76,000. This includes the cost of drug screenings, training, miscellaneous programming costs and the salary for the case manager.

The case manager would be the supervisor for each participant, overseeing attendance, providing screenings and offering support, among other responsibilities.

Brewer said there are opportunities for the program to receive state and federal funding.

He estimates revenue could total about $21,500, but he said although maintaining employment is a priority for each participant, drug court requirements must be met.

The program, which would monitor participants for at least a year, is intensive with regular case manager meetings, a weekly drug court that addresses progress and problems, drug screenings and outpatient treatment for drug abuse or mental health.

Brewer said treatment programs also often require self-help classes, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, and some participants also may be on home detention.

Brewer said most likely referrals for treatment at Centerstone, the county’s regional mental health center, would be needed. There also is an option to work with Schneck Medical Center or Christopher and Associates.

Prosecuting Attorney AmyMarie Travis, who has had experience with a drug court in Monroe County when she was the prosecutor there, said she has personally seen how it can reduce the recidivism rate.

She said the program can save lives and improve those of drug users and their children as well as help keep them employed.

The drug court in Monroe County prohibited participants from denying strip searches and seizures in their homes and of their phones, and immediate ramifications occurred if there were violations, such as a failed drug test, she said.

“The judge can put them in jail for a week,” Travis said.

First-time felons can benefit from the drug court by clearing their records of the conviction if the program is completed.

Dawn Goodman-Martin, who runs the addictions program at Schneck Medical Center, said she’s in support of drug court because of the results.

She said the user’s brain deteriorates over time when using drugs, but these types of programs offer a chance for drug offenders to get clean and change their health.

“We know that if someone is off of the substances for nine to 12 months without relapses, the brain and receptors will regrow, which will help in better decision-making,” Goodman-Martin told the county officials.

Most of the officials at the meeting agreed that drug court won’t change everyone enrolled but will be worth it to the ones who can make a life change.

“Any time you deal with a defendant, nothing is perfect. Some of them take a step forward, and some of them take a step back, but ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away,” Poynter said.

Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish said if 15 to 20 people a year are saved in a 10-year period of time, that means better results for families, drug-exposed children, less of a drain on the hospital and law enforcement officers, and it will create a better health overall.

“If you take 100 to 200 addicts out of this county, and that’s counting (their) families … over a period of years, every one of those persons who gets off drugs — every one — is going to commit less crimes,” MacTavish said.