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Justice Officials Eye Expansion of Drug Court System: Part II

For two decades the drug court system has allowed substance abuse victims to plead guilty to the majority of crimes committed.

West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Photo: Bill Shaw/ WTIU

West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, says Indiana’s drug court system is an example to other states considering similar programs.

PREVIOUS: Part I: Justice Officials Eye Expansion of Drug Court System

Jeremiah King and Ryan Schmidt didn’t know each other when they entered the Monroe County drug Court system more than two years ago, but today are good friends.  They signed their plea on the same day, entered drug court on the same day, and are slated to graduate the same day.  A competitive challenge between the two kept them focused.

“I was going to die and that was the truth about it, maybe slower maybe quicker, but that’s where I was going… I was 25 years old no real job experience to speak of no real, life experience to speak of.  So I really had to have a lot of structure and a lot of help from other people,” King said.

“Breaking the cycle of addiction and the repeated motion of the denial process we get into that this way of life is normal…I couldn’t break it on my own and the only times in the last couple of years of addiction I had a chance to break it was when I was taken out of that environment and put in the care and custody of Monroe County.  I smile about it because truly I believe that’s what saved my life,” Schmidt said.

The three largest drug courts in the state are in Marion, Monroe, and Vigo Counties, and all use similar structures and concepts — including stabilization, accountability, and various treatment phases – to wean offenders off drugs.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Jose Salinas says the immediate consequences for violating terms of the program help to scare offenders straight.

“What I like about our program is it gives you an intensive focus and intensive one-on-one interaction between our case managers and their clients, that we find out about what’s going on in their lives, not a month later, you know, when we find out they came back ‘dirty’ last month – ‘dirty’ for a urine drop – we find out the next week. And usually when they know that they have the drop and they’re going to be ‘dirty’, many times we find out the day or within two days of when that relapse happened,” Salinas said.

And when drug users find a way out of their addiction, it saves the county money.  Monroe County Drug Court Coordinator Steve Malone says program participants spend 51 percent fewer days in jail than those who opt out of the system.  King says two options awaited him while addicted — prison or death—he says his son and the potential for a hefty prison sentence changed his life.

“I tried my best to control my using and everything about my life and I had to realize that the answer wasn’t in here I had to let in a lot of influences from other people.  I had to get humble enough to know that I don’t know how to live life and not destroy everything I come in contact with…I look back and I couldn’t see it as a life or death situation, until it was.  There’s a cloud put on by drug use, you just can’t see what is going on around you,” King said. “I’m also a tax payer.  For the first time in my life I can say that and I think about that in terms of alternative sentencing for the jails we pay for as tax payers…drug court gave me a chance and I took it.”

West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, says Indiana’s drug court system is an example to other states considering similar programs.

“Indiana is at the top.  To be specific about that they are one of three states that has a statewide certification of drug court so the drug courts are actually performing to high standards and outcome measures.  The Supreme Court here and the judicial center does a fantastic job of ensuring fidelity to the drug court model and I really think this is drug court country. The two words all rise.  The bailiff will say all rise and everyone will stand up to attention as the judge takes the bench, but in drug court all rise is a promise.  It’s a promise that we are going to get people the treatment that they need, we as a professional community are going to rise to the occasion and we’re going to help you.  And if you get clean and sober we all rise,” Huddleston said.

Drug Court also ensures that while in the program participants have to work, complete their GED, or enroll in an educational program.  And here’s one last sobering number: 166 people have graduated from Monroe County’s program in its ten years in existence.

Shameka Neely

Shameka Neely, a native of Nashville, Tennessee enthusiastically joined WTIU as Senior Reporter/ InFocus Producer in the news department. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational and Corporate Communication, with a minor in Marketing and Masters of Arts Degrees' in Administrative Dynamics and Communication all from Western Kentucky University. Shameka also holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism from Indiana University.

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