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Plans for drug court progressing

July 31, 2019
Progress is being made on efforts to form a drug treatment court in Crawford County. Earlier this month, members of the multi-disciplinary team overseeing the endeavor attended the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Conference.

Crawford County team members attending the conference, July 13 through 17 at National Harbor, Md., were Chief Deputy Prosecutor Parker Hudson, Life-Springs Clinical Manager Michelle Emmons, public defender Dennis Byrd, Chief Probation Officer James Grizzel and Circuit Court Judge Sabrina Bell.

"The conference keeps our drug court team's momentum going from the National Drug Court Institute three-day training we had in April of this year," Bell said, noting about half of the team members attended the conference.

The goal continues to be for the drug treatment court to be in session in January. To do that, the team has a time task plan that guides it in getting a written policy for the treatment program completed.

"We still need to get a few things into writing and final form into the policy and procedure manual, but we are still on schedule," Bell said, adding that the program can be run even if it hasn't received certification through the Indiana Supreme Court. "We just can't collect administrative and user fees until certified."

The conference earlier this month provided team members, whose attendance was paid for by an Indiana Office of Court Services grant, with sessions on rural treatment courts to learn how to overcome obstacles unique to small counties in starting such a court.

"The conference also confirms for us the things that we are doing right, and teaches us where we need to improve," Bell said.

Bell specifically took away the need for case planning that involves follow-up care after someone completes the treatment court program.

"The program itself will take 18 to 24 months, and as the participant completes each phase and gets closer to graduation, the level of supervision goes down," she said. "However, graduates expressed a desire to still be involved and a need for structured accountability and follow-up."

Bell said the program will need a case manager to be in charge of alumni groups and keeping in touch with graduates, who will check in with the case manager frequently at first and then periodically.

"A lot of times graduates stay in contact by becoming mentors to participants, and the mentor-mentee relationship is beneficial to both parties," she said. "Some participants, depending on the level of the original charge, will be on probation even after completing the treatment program, and this period of probation will involve follow-ups with the court, probation, a case manager and, eventually, an alumni group."

Bell said the conference also confirmed to her the need for a peer recovery coach on the drug court team.

"This was something I had been wanting to do, but the conference reiterated the importance of having this position on the team, and so I have made it a priority to hire a peer recovery coach immediately," she said. "I have found a grant that will pay for the salary of the peer recovery coach and also pay to have the person certified."

Bell said the conference also enabled Grizzel, the county's chief probation officer, to learn and take advantage of different services that will help the court system monitor curfew and do frequent drug screens.

From a direct treatment perspective, Bell said she learned that the medication Vivitrol, which is used to block getting high from opiates, also works on methamphetamine, which is a greater problem in Crawford County.

"So, we took down the sources of the research to confirm ourselves," she said. "We also want to talk to our local doctors, treatment providers and licensed therapists, and, if it is something we can do, we will work with our participants and incorporate medically assisted treatment, including Vivitrol, for blocking the effects of getting high from methamphetamine."

The treatment court program will be funded in large part by grants, donations and administrative and user fees from participants, not taxpayer dollars, Bell said.

"I want to stress to the people of Crawford County that the treatment court program will not come at a cost to them, but substance use disorder in our community costs everyone," she said.

Bell noted that many of the grants are contingent on team members attending conference like this one, as the grant-making agencies want to know that local officials are properly educated and trained and using evidence-based practices.

"A treatment court takes a lot of extra work and money, but, if we put that work and money in on the front end to turn lives around, those people become contributing members of society, obtain jobs and pay taxes back into the county," she continued. "The alternative is incarceration, which does not work, is much more expensive, and the taxpayer does pay for."

Incarceration is meant for violent offenders, Bell said.

"Child abusers, violent criminals, drug dealers and manufacturers go to prison. They do not get the same opportunity to do therapeutic community or purposeful incarceration while doing their time," she said. "Each case is different and has different circumstances that must be considered."

That doesn't mean the treatment court program is a walk in the park, Bell said.

"It is a rigorous program lasting 18 to 24 months involving weekly court hearings, reporting to probation officers frequently, doing day reporting and frequent drug screens, as well as abiding by a curfew, completing intense mental health and substance use treatment, such as individual and group counseling, attending AA/NA meetings and substance abuse education classes, as well as obtaining a sponsor, gainful employment and safe and stable housing," she said. "After all that, some participants may still be on probation."

Bell said the drug court team will be working the next several weeks and months to educate the community about the program.

"We will be presenting the treatment court program to the county council and commissioners, along with community partners and agencies, on Aug. 13," she said. "After that, we will hold town hall-type meetings for members of the public to present the program and answer questions.

"Additionally, we will be having fundraisers and events that raise money and create awareness for what the treatment court program is. We will also have informational booths at the festivals next year. We are working on pamphlets and brochures to hand out."

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