The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

February 12, 2014

Judge Drug treatment courts effective, necessary

— BLOOMSBURG — Treatment courts are an outside-the-box approach to criminal justice, according to Columbia-Montour Counties President Judge Thomas James Jr.

About 36 people from both counties are enrolled in DUI and drug treatment court programs.

“Our goal was 25 and we’re up to 35 or 36 and growing,” he said.

Two people from Montour County are expected to graduate from drug treatment court in a few months.“Just about everybody has a friend, a child or a relative or knows somebody who has become addicted. It saves taxpayers a ton of money and the people who are involved become productive citizens instead of being a drag on society,” the judge said of treatment courts.

While the drug problem has

been severe for some time in the area, James said “it’s really a societal problem — the justice system is stretched to the limit by dealing with the drug situation many more components than criminal justice with people being addicted. There are medical and mental health issues, the breakdown of the family, problems if they are unemployed or wards of the state — the cost to society is unbelievable,” he said.

Columbia County started its drug treatment court before Montour County’s began. Drug court has been in effect for three years.

Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren reviews information about drug court candidates and speaks with their attorneys. “A lot of defendants are reluctant to apply because they don’t want to be under such intensive supervision,” she said. “Some would rather go to jail because it’s easier. Drug court attempts to help them get clean and stay clean,” she said.

Drug court’s first graduate was a “star student who had a child while she was in the program, graduated from the program and was carrying a 3.7 average at Bloomsburg University,” James said.

“She’s a real spokesperson for the program,” he said of the Columbia County mother of two.

Another drug court graduate, also from Columbia County, graduated first in his class at Triangle Tech and is doing really well, according to the judge.

James said treatment court helps addicts become productive citizens and gives them tools so they don’t relapse into addiction.

Drug court participants spend the first 14 days in jail and then are on electronic monitoring for about 32 months.

After that, they have to report daily to probation, get jobs, earn their high school equivalency diploma if they didn’t graduate from high school and attend AA meetings five times a week. They also have to go to counseling on a regular basis and submit to random drug or alcohol tests.

If they slip, they enter a rehabilitation center.

“Some are better than others with the most success with those who have strong family support systems,” James said. Others succeed through social service agencies. “There is one minister in Berwick particularly devoted to helping people with addiction,” he said.

The program also cuts down on repeat offenders. “It costs $2,000 to $3,000 a month to house someone in jail. If he or she has a mandatory minimum of one year, to keep him or her on electronic monitoring and with all these treatment options and on a short leash, it can save $24,000 to $36,000 a year — that’s gigantic,” he said.

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