Adult drug court offers support
She would tell her doctor she’d accidentally dropped the entire bottle of pills in the toilet.
She desperately needed another prescription, she would say.
In reality, the woman, who talked to The Inter-Mountain on the condition of anonymity, was feeding her latest addiction, this time to morphine.
“Did it work at first? It sure did,” she said. “You’ll do pretty much anything to get it, once you’re addicted to it, but pretty soon they start to catch on and won’t write you any more prescriptions.”
Ultimately, the woman wound up being sentenced to one to five years in prison on drug-related charges and spent the next 10 months in and out of jail; She would be placed on the Randolph County Community Corrections program, then fail a random drug test and find herself right back behind bars.
That’s where she was when John Meadows, Randolph County’s adult drug court probation officer, told her that if she met certain criteria, she was going to be released to participate in the inaugural Randolph County Adult Drug Court, which began Oct. 16, 2012.
She qualified, and now, thanks to the support she’s received through the unique program, she’s finally confident in one thing – she’s never going back to jail.
“I’ve got too much to lose this time,” the woman said. “I just got an apartment. I just got a job and every time I go to jail everything I own ends up getting taken. It’s hard to get a job around here and I’m not trying to lose it, not for something stupid.”
The adult drug court program provides the support system many former prisoners need – but also lack -when they’re released into the real world, said Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong, who serves as the drug court judge.
“Ninety percent of crimes committed are drug- and alcohol-related, and although there’s a certain benefit to getting someone (convicted of a drug charge) away from everyone else, the push for drug courts throughout the state has not just been about prison overcrowding. We find people are getting out and still having the same problems.”
Drug and alcohol addiction is likely to land person in jail a second or third time, which isn’t exactly inexpensive- Wilfong said the cost of housing one person in the regional jail for one year is $20,000.
“That doesn’t even take into consideration medical problems, that’s just to house them,” the judge said.
Adult drug court is a 12-month, three-phase program that functions as a less costly alternative to incarceration. It relies on individually-prescribed substance abuse treatment via the North Central Community Corrections program and court-monitored intensive supervision to rehabilitate people into society. Adult drug court isn’t for everyone – it aims to serve Randolph County residents who carry a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor on their record and are addicts or serious drug abusers. The program isn’t intended for drug dealers who are in the business to make money or individuals with previous or current sex offenses or crimes against children on their records, Wilfong said.
And it certainly isn’t a “get out of jail free card,” the judge added.
“It’s a pain in the neck,” she said. “It is easier to sit in jail and do their time.”
For instance, participants must attend meetings with their nine-member treatment teams weekly; check in with Meadows, the probation officer, face-to-face daily; contact Meadows by phone between 6 and 8 p.m. nightly; work full-time or complete 40 hours of community service per week; and submit to frequent, random drug testing at least twice a week.
A male drug court participant said the attitude and approach of the treatment team made up of Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker, Chief Probation Officer Heidi Hawkins and substance abuse counselor Valerie Corley, in addition other officials – is critical to participants’ recovery.
“It’s not like you’re looked down upon,” he said. “It’s not like they judge you or anything like that. If you don’t lie to them, it’s not like they treat you like a criminal, they treat you like a human being.”
Adult drug court operates on a system of incentives and sanctions. Incentives, which reward participants for steps taken toward a drug-free lifestyle, range from decreased supervision to the receipt of gift cards for an array of area stores and restaurants. However, as the participants’ handbook notes, “The most powerful incentive is the dismissal of your charges.”
Sanctions, or punishments, for noncompliance with program requirements include essay assignments, additional support group sessions, home confinement and jail time. (If a participant tests positive for a controlled substance, Wilfong orders that person to serve three days in jail, but if they lie about their use, the judge doubles their time to six days.)
Drug court, after all, is about motivating participants to stay out of jail.
“One of the goals of this program is to save money, but it’s also about getting people back into society, so they can be productive citizens again,” Meadows said. “It’s about getting moms and dads back to their kids.”
Hawkins agreed, saying, “Just to get people back to the community, it’s kind of like giving their life back to them.
“When you see it work, it’s a great feeling,” she added, “and that’s why we do it.”
And adult drug court is working, nationwide and here in Randolph County, Wilfong said.
The female participant who was formerly addicted to morphine – but has tested negative every week since drug court started – wouldn’t disagree.
“It feels good not to worry about coming in here and peeing dirty (testing positive for drugs),” she said. “I never thought I’d live a half-way normal life.”
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.