Drug court monitors participants, tracks offenders' progress
|Drug court tracker Melanie Madill conducts weekly urinalysis on the County's Emit ASSAY testing device. Members of the Carbon County Felony Drug Court are required to submit samples for testing three to four times weekly during the initial phases of their contract with the court. The county's testing device is nearly impervious to conventional forms of sample tampering.|
In an era where drug-related offenses create serious law enforcement concerns in nearly all communities, the criminal justice system in Carbon County is exploring the redemptive quality of rehabilitating offenders.
According to Carbon County Drug Court documents, offenders move through the criminal justice system in a predictable patterns. The patterns include arrest, prosecution, conviction, incarceration and release.
In a few weeks or months, offenders may be picked up on similar charges and the process begins again.
"A group of concerned professionals came together and agreed that we had to try something different that our current approach was not working," said 7th District Court executive Bill Engle.
As drug problems continue to mount, law enforcement efforts increase and incarcerated offenders compromise the prison systems ability to house violent or career felons, according to court officials.
As offenders flood the criminal justice system, the defendants may not be identified as having significant problems with drugs or alcohol and may be released back into the community without referral for treatment.
Prior to the advent of drug court programs, communication between justice agencies and substance abuse treatment providers was nearly non-existent.
In addition, many drug abusers ordered to attend treatprograms do not remain involved in the process long enough to develop the behavior skills for long-term abstinence.
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, the mission of drug courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and controlled substances and related criminal activity.
Drug courts offer a choice for individuals whose criminal justice involvement stems from alcohol and drug abuse.
In exchange for successful completion of the treatment program, the courts may dismiss the original charge, reduce or set aside a sentence, offer some lesser penalty or offer a combination of these.
According to the association drug courts transform the roles of both criminal justice practitioners and treatment providers.
The judge becomes the central figure in the equation, acting both as a "cheerleader" for court members and the ultimate authority for the defendants' possible sanction or expulsion from the program.
In January 2004, the Carbon County Commission conducted public hearings to receive comments from local residents about developing a felony drug court program.
The program discussed at the hearing was structured to provide a high level of surveillance and supervision for participants in an attempt to reduce the level of recidivism.
With the war on recidivism in mind, Carbon County courts began screening adults with drug related felonies, parole violations and child neglect or abuse charges.
According to local criminal justice officials, it is also important to note that the potential court members must not have significant histories as violent offenders.
Individuals who pass the screening are offered a plea in abeyance condition on completion of the drug court program.
The felony drug court program consists of three major components:
Supervision of the participants in the drug court program is provided full-time by the Carbon County Sheriff's Office tracker.
"The program is aimed at changing their life skills, it not just about drugs," explained Melanie Madill, a 10-year member of the sheriff's office who took the assignment of drug court tracker in March 2006.
Court participants are required to contact Madill on a daily basis to check in and drug screen as required.
The system works on a phase system. The farther an individual progresses in the program the less frequent their drug screens become.
The program uses the court's equipment for urine screening and the Emit ASSAY machine is nearly impervious to conventional forms of alteration, according to the officials.
"The program is what you make of it," commented Madill. "You will always have those who try to get over on the system. But this program can change an offenders life if they want it to."
Treatment in the program is provided by Four Corners Community Behavioral Health. Treatment of program participants is initiated with Four Corners' intensive outpatient program.
The treatment starts with an intensive phase that consists of 12 hours of group therapy per week for 12 week along with individual and family psychotherapy.
Upon a participant's successful completion of the first phase, less intensive aftercare will be provided for up to 18 months.
The common threat that was voiced during the writing of this article was the fact that the programs success depends largely on the participants interest in real change.
"I works for those who want it to, it is a great tool for change," said Karen Royall, a Four Corners representative.
Participant accountability is provided by the court and staff.
The local drug court staff consists of the judge, Four Corners, the sheriff's office, adult probation and parole agents from the Utah Department of Corrections, attorney Sam Bailey and the county prosecutor's office.
The court was headed by the Honorable Bruce K. Halliday until his retirement in February and has been taken over the the Honorable George Harmond.
Participants are required to attend weekly court dates, where the judge reviews the individuals' progress in treatment, employment and achieving a sober lifestyle.
Participants in the drug court program are required to comply with all treatment obligations while maintaining full-time work or school enrollment status.
Negative sanctions for noncompliance with the drug court's requirements may include limited jail time or in serious transgressions discharge from the program.
At the current time, 23 individuals have been accepted into the local drug court program.
Six of the particpants have graduated successfully from the 18-month program.
Two have been discharged and 15 remain active within the court.
The local drug court is funded by a federal grant obtained by Four Corners and revenues allocated for the program's operation by the Carbon County Commission.
According to drug court documents, the program is having a positive effect on methanphetamines and drug problems by reducing recidivism and the the reoffense rate in participants.
The project is evaluated by monitoring participants urinalysis results, housing and unemployment status, arrest records, child abuse and neglect referral as well as program completion, according to officials.
The judge and drug court staff believe that the high degree of inter-agency collaboration in Carbon County is at the root of the program's initial success.
"This is the best job I have ever had," commented Madill. "After working in the jail for seven years, it is very rewarding to be part of a program that encourages people to succeed."
"In my short time with the court we have already seen three clean babies born within the program. It is always challenging but it is worth our time to see if we can put our money where our mouth is and really do something about the drug problem in our community," concluded the drug court tracker.