Drug Court – Rehabilitation Instead of Jail Saves County Dollars

For Immediate Release: Friday, May 21, 2010

Sponsored by: Health and Human Services Department

Washington County's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been the focus of a successful program to help addicted people get off of drugs, turn their lives around and contribute back to society.  The program, Washington County Drug Treatment Court, takes the combined effort of the offices of the District Attorney, Public Defender, Community Corrections, the Circuit Court (Presiding Judge Thomas Kohl oversees Drug Court), DHHS, treatment providers, State Department of Human Services Child Welfare and the Washington County Sheriff's Office.  Jeff Peters, Addictions Services Supervisor, oversees the DHHS component of Drug Court.

The people selected to participate in Drug Court are high risk offenders with multiple arrests and convictions and are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.   They do not have a history of violent offenses or person to person crimes.  They are generally immature, not well socialized, often throw-away children.  "They move from a culture of 'partying' to a culture of 'recovery' and gain self esteem and a sense that they have a part to play in the larger society," says Peters.

The potential Drug Court enrollees may have a sentence as long as 10 years pending.  If they are selected to participate in Drug Court, a one to two year process, and if they graduate from the program, those sentences are rescinded or reduced. If they are doing well in the program they receive rewards and if not there are sanctions.

Their treatment includes recovery meetings, one-on-one counseling and group counseling sessions.  They live in residences that support drug free choices.  Each Monday, representatives from the nine offices meet to discuss the cases of the Drug Court enrollees who will appear in court that afternoon.  Counselors and probation officers will discuss the client's treatment progress, whether they have passed their mandatory urinalysis and their behavior in the communal residences, in the community and in court.  If any rewards or sanctions deemed appropriate, they are discussed at this time.

When Judge Kohl convenes Drug Court that afternoon, each enrollee comes forward in turn.  Depending on the level of success they have reached in the program, clients are required to come to court from four times a month down to one time a month.  The judge reviews the progress that they have made, takes up any issues that have surfaced in the staff meeting (for example, lying to the court, missing recovery meetings or counseling appointments, failing to pass their urine analysis or failing to complete assigned community service) and he asks how they are making progress. 

Prompt sanctions are given if a client has not lived up to their responsibilities.  They range from a half-day of community service, to time in the county jail, or even expulsion from the program (and return to jail or prison).  But most often the person is successful and the judge announces the number of days the person has been drug free.  All, including the judge, applaud their success.

People are nominated to participate in Drug Court by their attorneys, the public defender, a counselor, or DHHS.  The District Attorney's office makes the final selection based on agreed upon eligibility criteria.

Drug Court is funded primarily through DHHS via several State and Federal grants.  The program, as of last December, had "saved" both state prison time and county jail time:  Over 133 years of prison sentences have been eliminated, saving the state the cost of imprisonment, which is more than $3 million dollars.  Twenty-four years of county jail time has been saved, at cost of more than $700,000.  

Jeff Peters, who oversees the funds used for the program, says, "You can see the benefit to the clients in the changes that they make in their lives."  Most all of those who graduate from the program continue to live lives that are drug free and contribute back to society.  Drug Court celebrated its fifth anniversary this past March.

Media Contact:

Jeff Peters, Senior Program Coordinator
503 846-4976