From T. R. Williams:
Many of the people in our jail were prisoners long before they lived behind bars.
We fall into the trap of drug and alcohol abuse when we’re struggling with something – the scars of a hard childhood, anxiety, depression, loneliness.
These addictions can lead to crime, and then jail. Lawrence County has a real problem with recidivism, which means people serve their time and leave jail, then reoffend and return, sometimes over and over. Not all cases are drug-related, but most are. Circuit Judge David Allen estimates that 85% of the criminal cases he hears have some component of drug abuse.
Jail has been our only option for these repeat offenders, and that’s not good for our community or those individuals. Only restoration – addressing addictions and their root cause – can stop recidivism.
“The opioid crisis has reached epidemic proportions. The abuse of meth, cocaine and heroin is out of control,” Judge Allen said. “The toll on society, both monetarily and otherwise, from this epidemic is astounding. We need to address the root of the problem, and Drug Court is one way to do that.”
Judge Allen is a key player in Lawrence County’s new Drug (Recovery) Court program, which just received a $70,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS). Other partners are District Attorney Brent Cooper, Public Defender Claudia Jack, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and South Central Human Resources Agency’s Community Corrections program. Although specific providers haven’t been chosen, rehabilitation programs also play a crucial role.
A Recovery Court Coordinator will be hired by the end of this year to organize the program and its weekly team meetings. She or he will be the only employee of the Drug Court; the grant will also cover expenses including drug testing.
The success of the program begins by choosing the right participants, who will be facing numerous charges with extended sentences. Violent offenders are not eligible.
Based on assessments and their discussions, the team will choose among those who volunteer for the program. Drug Court offers an alternative to incarceration: rehabilitation with intensive supervision and support.
This is not an easy road. Participants in other programs have stated that jail is easier. Offenders chosen for it immediately enter a treatment program, either in- or outpatient, and appear before the Judge at least twice a month in the beginning. Drug testing is frequent and random, as often as 2-3 times a week, and relapse is dealt with swiftly.
The state recognizes the promise in Drug Courts, and Liz Ledbetter, TDMHSAS Recovery Court Specialist, helped us design our program. Team members will attend state and national training; SCHRA’s Community Corrections will hold the contract and organize team meetings at its Lawrenceburg office.
Drug Court programs exist in about 2,000 communities across the country. Davidson County, Tennessee’s – DC4 – is a model for others.
Its website explains: “By using this approach since May of 1997, the Davidson County Drug Court program has accomplished the following: diverted approximately 1,500 people from the current criminal justice process, maintained a negative drug test rate of 97%, provided the community with over 50,000 community service hours annually, maintained a 100% employment rate for graduates (approximately 65% of participants), and numerous drug-free babies have been born.”
Drug Court is not the answer for everyone, but it is an answer for many. I’m thankful for the opportunity to offer restoration and hope for Lawrence Countians who need it very badly.