Drug Court offers an alternative to prison
by Areia Hathcock
Feb 20, 2013 | 1797 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since the creation of the very first drug court in Dade County, Fla. in 1989, drug courts have been popping up nationally for the past 24 years in the American legal system. As of June 2012, there were 2734 drug courts in existence all with the same goal – to find a solution by combining drug treatment with the structure and authority of the judge. Working together, they are able to make a lifestyle change for the participants.

Massac County launched their first drug court on Jan. 1, 2012 after a state mandate that all counties in Illinois adopt a drug court protocol starting in 2012.

To be eligible for acceptance into the drug court program, an offender must be charged with a probation eligible criminal violation of the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act (720 ILCS 616/1 et. seq.), be willing to admit that he or she uses or has an addiction to drugs and must demonstrate a willingness to participate in a treatment program. Participants who do not meet the previous criteria or who have been convicted of a crime of violence within the past 10 years will not be accepted.

“The drug court is not designed for all persons charged with a methamphetamine-related offense. It is designed as a last chance for those individuals who would be going to prison if not for the drug court program,” said Massac County State’s Attorney Patrick Windhorst.

The mission statement of the drug court program is “to break the cycle of criminal behavior caused by methamphetamine addiction in non-violent offenders by encouraging therapeutic intervention while at the same time holding all offenders accountable for their criminal behavior.”

The drug court protocol, which is designed by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, currently requires each drug court to focus only on one drug.

There can be no more than 10 participants enrolled in Massac County’s program at any given time to allow proper supervision and evaluate the procedures and policies of the system. Currently in Massac County there are five people enrolled.

The drug court team consists of a court judge, court officer, state’s attorney, public defender and a treatment counselor who meet monthly to review the status of offenders currently in the program. As the participants main point of contact, the drug court officer prepares a written report on each person with recommendations for sanctions or rewards for the team to review.

There are five steps in the program before a participant can graduate. First, all defendants will serve at least 30 days incarceration in the county jail/detention center either pre- or post-plea agreement. This serves as punishment for their actions, a time to sober up without access to alcohol or drugs and a motivation time for the defendant to comply with the program.

Secondly, the participant will complete at least 30 days of in-patient substance abuse treatment, typically at the Fellowship House in Anna. After the in-patient treatment, the defendant will move directly to a half-way house or to their home. If the participant will be living at home, it is essential there be support from their family members.

Next there are three phases to the program: Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Phase I lasts a minimum of eight weeks and the other two phases last a minimum of 12 weeks. All phases include the participants to attend anywhere from one to three probation appointments weekly where a drug test is performed, attend scheduled drug court monthly, attend one to four NA/AAA meetings per week, receive out-patient counseling, attend GED classes if necessary, attend other educational programs deemed necessary by the drug court officer, complete public service work, begin seeking employment and pay fines and costs associated with the program.

After all five steps of the drug court have been performed successfully, the defendant will graduate from the program. The first participant in the Massac County program is nearing completion.

While many counties in southern Illinois adopted a protocol but did not implement a drug court because of fear it would be too burdensome on the court system, the Massac County State’s Attorney’s office pushed for implementation because they saw its potential value. “I believe the drug court is a valuable tool to address the problem of methamphetamine in our community,” Windhorst said.

More information on drug courts in Illinois can be found on the website of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.

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