Drug Court – Rehabilitation Not Incarceration

Drug court gavel and heartI recently had the pleasure of speaking at our local Family Drug Court Graduation ceremony. With a demanding speaking schedule earlier in the day, I arrived at the Deschutes County Courthouse frazzled and anxious. But as the gallery filled with the friends and families of the graduates, some of whom I knew, my anxiety yielded to gratitude. A warm rush of emotion swept over me.

“How am I going to do this?” I pleaded to Vicki, a probation officer I know seated nearby. “I’m a complete puddle!”

“Don’t you dare cry Stoefen,” she chided, “or I’ll arrest you.”

I LOVE drug court. Miracles happen in that courtroom. New lives are born and families are restored. I visit graduation ceremonies whenever my schedule allows, and I sit in the front row with my hankie, and I laugh and cry with the others… whether I know the people involved or not.

I’m the mother of a recovering meth addict and I know what a big day it was for the families seated in that courtroom. I know what it is to lose a child to addiction… at least for a time… and I know the profound joy of restoration. I understand the hope that filled that courtroom, and the fear that will take years to dissipate.

In my many years of doing drug prevention work with the Meth Action Coalition, and through my daughter’s many friendships in the recovery community, I’ve come to know perhaps hundreds of individuals who have suffered from substance abuse disorder. I’ve seen so much suffering from this wretched disease. It seems the odds are unfairly stacked against someone trying to get clean, especially once entangled in the revolving doors of the criminal justice system. This is where drug court comes in.

In my county, Family Drug Court provides treatment vs. continued incarceration. It is a court-supervised intensive treatment program, typically lasting 12 to 18 months (possibly as long as 24 months), to serve parents who have had their children removed from their custody or are at risk of having their children removed as a result of substance abuse. Family Drug Court is coordinated and closely monitored by the court under the direction of Judge Alta Brady. Representatives from partner agenciesare organized as a treatment team. Together, the team develops and supervises treatment plans for drug court participants and their families.

The goals of Drug Court are to:

  • Lessen impact of illegal drug use on community law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections
  • Reduce community rates of addiction and substance abuse
  • Help drug abusing parents and pregnant women to become sober and responsible caregivers
  • Create safe environments in which children are healthy and safe from abuse and neglect
  • Promote positive, pro-social behavior

What is expected of a person participating in Drug Court?

Individual treatment plans are developed for all drug court participants and tailored around the unique needs of parents and families. Basic expectations of all participants are:

  • Frequent court appearances
  • Frequent random drug testing
  • Intensive drug and alcohol treatment
  • Mental health treatment if appropriate
  • Community based self help/recovery meetings (12-step, AA, NA, MA DDA etc.)
  • Regular probation reporting
  • Parent coaching
  • Health, wellness and treatment of children
  • Health, wellness and treatment of parents
  • Communicable disease testing and referral
  • Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Employment

Participants receive incentives for program compliance and progress on their treatment plan. Individualized treatment interventions and sanctions are given for non-compliance. As a participant progresses, the treatment plan is adjusted with less frequent drug testing, therapy sessions, probation reporting and court attendance.

High success rate

Long term recovery from addiction requires changing everything, and it often takes a village of support. Drug Court provides that village, and is also a shining example of what’s possible when the proper resources are applied to a complex problem.

It’s my understanding that Deschutes County Family Drug Court is especially effective. There have been 63 graduates from the program since its inception in 2006. That’s 63 families restored, 63 chronic offenders no longer in the legal system, and over 100 children with a more hopeful future.

It’s a demanding program, so only half of all participants in my county graduate. Yet nearly 100% of those graduates have secured stable housing and employment, and achieved clean dates exceeding one year. Recidivism rates are only 7 percent, as opposed to the national recidivism rate of 46 percent for offenders not benefitting from drug court.

There are nearly 1,500 adult drug courts in the United States, and approximately 300 family drug courts. Our country needs to continue to support and fund these existing programs, as well as create new ones. Drug court works. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals reports that nationwide, 75 percent of graduates never see another pair of handcuffs. Research has shown it to be more cost-effective than any other proven criminal justice strategy.

If you know, or love someone experiencing legal consequences because of substance abuse disorder, contact your county courthouse and inquire about drug court. You may also click here for a listing of drug court programs by state.

Please share experiences you or a loved one has had with drug court.

Author: Barbara Stoefen

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  1. Oh Jennifer… I’m so sorry for how hard it is right now. I’ve been there with my daughter, but with meth and not heroin. I also had days when I didn’t care if I woke up. Hopefully prison will prove to be a blessing for your daughter… many get clean while there. If you wish, please add your daughter to my prayer page and I will pray for her http://www.barbaracoferstoefen.com/postings-of-hope/

    Please be good to yourself, and on Christmas/your birthday, celebrate the huge importance of your own life.

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  2. Thank you for shining a light on this resource and its efficacy. Information is power.

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    • My daughter is in county on the way to do her 8 year backup for violating felony possesion of heroin probation. Her dad got her on heroin at 16 she is seventeen now about to turn 18 in jail and got taken the day before Thanksgiving. I helped get them arrested originally last summer because she was going to die. She tried to stay clean when she got out but it was too hard. I don’t really want to wake up tomorrow. My son from my first husband not her dad has been in college 3 years for engineering and just failed out and cannot go back because he didn’t do well another semester at the beginning which doesn’t seem like a big deal at this point to be honest even though I’m 35 thousand dollars in debt for it…if I could win the lottery I’d give every dime away to make her well. Christmas is my birthday and all I want I cannot have. I’m glad she’s alive but she’s not healthy I’m afraid she has stuff I cannot state because it’s too painful.

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