For two decades The Drug Court System has changed lives and restored families in the community by allowing substance abuse victims to plead guilty to the majority of crimes committed. Once accepted in the program, the offenders are indebted to a very intensive process. Vigo County Drug Court Coordinator Paul Southwick says the intense intervention is necessary to break-the cycle. “Drug court is designed for individuals who have alcohol or drug problems.”
Once a person is convicted of a drug crime in Indiana, there are at best two choices: go to jail or enter the drug court system — which can take up to two years, but can result in drug charges being reduced or dropped if the offender completes the course. The path isn’t easy and one that some opt not to take. Southwick says it’s up to participants to take responsibility. “We are investing in individuals, but in the process hopefully lives are restored, and they get back on life’s track.”
In Monroe County, some opt for jail instead of the program. Monroe County officials say twice as many people who opt out of the program eventually get in trouble with the law again as those who graduate from it. Monroe Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff says drug courts, and the judges who oversee them, may also suffer from a perception they don’t deserve. “In traditional court, there is that barrier. I sit elevated in a black robe obviously I don’t stand that close to anybody in a court room, but those banners come down in drug court,” says Diekhoff.
She attributes the variant structure to the success of the drug court program.