Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Two graduate from Drug Court

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The mention of Drug Court automatically makes some people think that the justice system is taking it easy on criminals, but those few offenders who manage to make it through the program will tell you different.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be sober,” said Justin Baker, a Crittenden County resident who was the 54th person to graduate from Drug Court in the Crittenden, Webster and Union County area. “I never thought I’d be able to get back into the mining industry again.”
Baker has done just that, after completing one year and three months in the program. During that time he attended 367 meetings and 147 drug screens. He has been clean for 470 days.
“Some people think that this is just a slap on the wrist,” said Circuit Court Judge Rene Williams. “Or that we are being easy on crime.”
To Williams and the drug court staff, it is a way to truly help people.
“Drug Court graduates have a 75 percent success rate of not re-offending,” said Williams. “That is much higher than someone who gets out of prison on parole.”
Drug Court is a post conviction court, meaning that to even apply for enrollment, you must already have plead guilty to a misdemeanor or felony related drug charge.
Williams said that most drug courts do not accept misdemeanor offenders, but that the local team feels that if they can catch someone early, they can keep them from progressing to worse crimes.
“Drug court is a privilege, not a right,” Williams said. “We do not force anyone into this program, although some people might feel they are forced if their option is prison or drug court.
To enroll in the program, offenders who have already plead guilty must apply. Those applicants are then considered by the Drug Court team, who decides which offenders they believe they can help.
Once enrolled, the participants must follow the strict requirements set up by the court. Those can include who the participant can see; where they can work; unannounced home visits; random drug screens; nightly call-ins; curfews; and even a ban on smoke shops.
“It hasn’t always been fun,” Baker said of his time in the program. “I was very hard headed the first month or so, but I’ve been very, very blessed.”
On Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Justin Baker was joined by Providence native Elizabeth Gray who became the 55th person to graduate the program.
“She was a little resistant and didn’t like us telling her who she could see,” said Judge Williams. “We even had to tell her not to see some of her family members.”
Williams pointed out that in some situations, family members can be the worst influences on people trying to turn their lives around.
“She has become a self sufficient person who is giving back to society,” Williams continued, adding she hoped one day that Gray could come work for the Drug Court program.
“No one who comes into this program is the same,” Williams said. “Everyone is here for a different reason, so their needs are different. We do what we think is best for each participant.”
Drug Court started in 2005.

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