Coalition exploring drug court concepts, funding alternatives
The Carbon County Drug Coalition has been set up to work toward creating a local drug court system.
With two meetings under the committee's belt, members are ready to move ahead to not only develop the strategies, but to apply for funding for a drug court program.
A recent poll conducted on the Sun Advocate's website showed that the majority of the public supports the move, but few people realize how a drug court differs from the regular criminal justice system.
Regular courts can take months to bring defendants to trial. The time between the arrests and trials may be so long that defendants have difficulty connect the crimes with the punishments.
Drug courts work on the premise that defendants have the right to speedy and continued monitoring. If participants fail to comply with drug control regimens, consequences happen immediately.
Implementing a local drug court requires a number of agencies working jointly along with more than one quarter of a million dollars to fund the program.
The Carbon Drug Coalition was set up to see how all the agencies could cooperate in designing a program of interconnection and securing the necessary funding.
The committee's membership includes representatives from the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, the Carbon County sheriff's department, Four Corners Mental Health, the 7th District Juvenile Court, Carbon School District and Pinnacle Canyon Academy.
The agencies deal with the drug problem and how it affects people and families.
"The community needs to realize that we have a pretty significant drug problem in our community," stated Terry Marshall, a member of the coalition and representative from the Carbon County Sheriff's Office. "It is our goal to determine projects that will address these concerns."
"The statistics, county-wide, show some pretty disturbing news regarding the problems in our community," added Marshall.
Carbon County has the second highest removal rate for children per 1,000 population in the state. Carbon is surpassed only by Grand County. The top five counties for child removal are in the eastern part of Utah.
The coalition view the high removal rates as a direct result of drug use, particularly methamphetamine.
"Utah is traditionally below the national average regarding removals of children from their homes," noted Boni Seals from the division of child and family services. "Carbon County is well above the Utah average and about three times above the national average."
In addition to the damaging affects illicit drug abuse has on the family unit, Marshall pointed out than an entire community can also feel the negative impacts associated with the criminal activities.
"Most of the crime we have in our county is related to drugs in some way or another," indicated Marshall. "Meth is right at the top."
According to agencies dealing with addicts, methamphetamine is the worst drug known for getting into and staying in people's lives.
The majority of confirmed meth users appear to be single mothers in their 20s who have small children.
Once meth takes control of an individual, it takes seven years of total removal before the person is clean.
Utah state law gives DCFS and guardian ad litem officials one year to determine whether a parent is fit to have children returned to the home once the removal has taken place.
The coalition members have agreed that the complicated problem needs to be attacked from a number of different angles.
Ultimately, the panel has determined that prevention of drug abuse should be the top priority in Carbon County.
Officials project that, without the drug abusers, most of the remaining problems would go away.
Implementing an effective prevention program will mean changing the way the community thinks about drugs and abusers.
Methamphetamine, for instance, is a mounting problem in every neighborhood in the Carbon County community.
Even the most upscale neighborhoods have the problem, despite the typical stereotypes.
"To some people, drug use is a problem of certain groups of people. But it isn't just related to the ones you might think," pointed out Melissa Hamilton, an assistant principal at Carbon High. "We have that group of kids who are the ones everyone thinks use drugs. But we also have honor students who are high when they are at school."
"Yet if you call parents about the problem, they say 'My kid wouldn't do that.' Perceptions of who is involved in this problem need to be changed," emphasized the assistant high school principal.
One of the main goals of the coalition is to bring the awareness to the average person in the county.
The group is exploring several methods to put the word out and eventually plans to develop a series of public meetings to promote action from the grassroots level.
"I guess what it comes down to is what will we have to offer when the public becomes aware of the problem," concluded Roberta Hardy, administrator at Pinnacle Canyon Academy. "What will be there so an actual change can come in the community?"