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Adult drug court opens
Beginning this month, adults facing non-violent drug charges may have options that will keep them from doing jail time or getting a permanent criminal record.
Island County has been trying to establish a drug court since October 2003 when state funds were first offered for treatment of felony offenders. When further state funding allowed for the hiring of a drug court coordinator in July of last year, the program gained momentum.
The Island County Adult Drug Court will allow certain defendants of drug-related charges to seek counseling and treatment in exchange for a lowering or dismissal of their criminal charges. However, to complete the prescribed program participants must finish a minimum of 24 months of successful rehabilitation. The hope is this rehabilitation will lead offenders into productive and crime-free lives.
Sanctions imposed while individuals undertake the program include weekly, random drug testing and mandated changes in living circumstances if they are contributing factors.
Failure to comply with guidelines or any new charges may result in expulsion from the program and a continuance of criminal charges.
Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill will preside over the Adult Drug Court and is very enthusiastic about the program. Its a proven model that not only gives a judge more latitude and creativity to address criminal behavior, but also allows us to see firsthand the results of our efforts, Churchill said.
The criteria needed to participate in the program are fairly stringent. Potential participants must be Island County residents, admit a substance abuse problem, have no prior convictions for violent or sex-related crimes and be likely to re-offend if they are not treated. Even then the program has the capacity for only 25 participants at one time.
In addition, participants must have a job or be enrolled in school throughout the process. They must also pay full restitution to any victims of their crimes.
Unlike the participants of the Juvenile Drug Court, which has been in existence since 2001, adults must also pay an administrative fee of $500.
Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks is grateful to those who helped see the program come to be. Although there are many to be thanked in launching this program, it obviously would not be possible without the dedication of Judges Churchill and (Alan) Hancock. Both have been instrumental in establishing the programs policies and procedures, Banks said.
Banks does caution, Drug courts are the right solution for a select group of offenders, adding, I have not embraced many alternatives to traditional prosecution.
The program with its new-start attitude may be an attractive alternative to many offenders. Some will not be interested in drug court, or will be screened out as ineligible.
Nevertheless, I anticipate that by years end we will be approaching our stated capacity of 25 drug court participants, Banks said.
The question of what to do if the program becomes swamped with candidates is still up in the air.
Drug courts are nothing new, in fact the first such program started in Dade County, Fla., in 1989. There are currently over 1,400 drug courts in existence in the United States. The Dade County program has been in successful operation ever since its inception and has lowered the rate of recidivism among program graduates.
Its the rate of recidivism or re-offending that becomes the measure for success or failure of such programs.
Island Countys Adult Drug Court anticipates the new program will help turn around the lives of drug addicts and save taxpayers a lot of money in the process. The amount of resources that go into investigation, arrest, prosecution and incarceration for each drug-related offense could become very costly. The aim is that avoiding incarcerations will cut down on taxpayer costs over the long run.
Banks lauded the hoped-for success of the program, stating,
Frankly, thats the goal here, to help these people become productive, and reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend. Productive, employed citizens, of course, also contribute to a growing economy that benefits us all.
For information contact the Island County Drug Court Coordinator at 679-7325 or at www.islandcounty.net/prosecutor/AdultDrugCourt.htm.