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home : local news : local news

4/19/2013 3:24:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Drug Court program expands into Lawrence County
Calling Drug Court a "valuable tool for making our communities safer," Chief Judge Stephen G. Sawyer has announced that the Second Circuit Coordinated Drug Court Program is being expanded to become operational in Lawrence and Richland counties effective May 1.

Drug Courts are required of all counties by the Illinois Drug Court Treatment Act as addiction recovery-based crime prevention programs. The Second Circuit program, which is being phased into all 12 counties, has been developed in consultation with the National Academy of Drug Court Professionals by Judge Sawyer and a committee first headed by White County Resident Judge Tom Sutton and now by Gallatin County Resident Judge Tom Foster.

Judges, State's Attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officers, probation officers and substance abuse providers of the Second Circuit received initial Drug Court training last October.

Now operating in Crawford, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin and Wabash Counties, Drug Court involves a selective admissions process, individualized drug treatment, random drug testing, frequent compliance hearings, and close monitoring of each participant's recovery progress by a county Drug Court Team comprised of the Drug Court Judge, State's Attorney, Substance Abuse provider, police representative, defense attorney and probation officer.

"We now have Drug Court probationers in three of the five operating counties," Judge Sawyer has stated. "There are two participants in Franklin County and one in Wabash County.

Because defendants who are (1) addicted and (2) facing likely prison terms demonstrate a higher probability of success in Drug Court than other substance abusers, and because of the importance of preventing the property crime and domestic violence which too often resumes after a drug addict completes either traditional probation or a prison sentence, the Drug Court teams focus on such "high risk/high need" defendants for admission to the Drug Court program.

A person cannot be admitted to Drug Court, however, if his or her charges include sexual assault, crimes involving bodily harm, or charges carrying mandatory prison time; and the county Drug Court Judge and State's Attorney have final authority as to whether or not any candidate is admitted to a county's Drug Court program.

The expenses of individual county drug courts are defrayed through court user fees and, in Crawford County, active fund-raising programs. Additionally, the Second Circuit has secured funding from the Redeploy Illinois program to compensate two Drug Court substance abuse therapists and provide meeting space for treatment in those areas of the Circuit in which there is a shortage of qualified treatment personnel.

Judge Sawyer, who also serves as the Franklin County Drug Court Judge, points out that success in Drug Court requires sustained effort and compliance with heightened probation requirements over a considerable period of time. "Candidates are made fully aware in

advance that the program is tough. In fact, some have backed out of the admission process, apparently deciding that prison would be easier."

The program can be transformative, however, for participants who choose opportunity over failure and put forth the effort to develop skills and habits with which to remain drugfree and become responsible citizens. "As a member of the Franklin County Drug Court

Team", Judge Sawyer has stated, "it's been heartwarming and encouraging to see pride in the faces of people who, for the first time in as long as they can remember, have gotten through a month without drugs and realize that they've just taken the first step in taking

their lives back."

"It's gratifying to be able to help people overcome hurdles and begin to recover from drug dependency; and as a judge whose duty it is to help keep our communities safe, it's equally gratifying to be involved with a program which stands to bear out the national

success story of Drug Courts with reductions in criminal activity here in the 2nd Circuit because people who committed those acts in the past are in recovery and out of trouble."

"As planned, we are making adjustments to the program based on our experiences in the pilot counties, and are looking forward to bringing Lawrence and Richland Counties on board next month. Drug Court is smart law enforcement, and our goal is to make it a reality throughout the Second Circuit by the end of this year."


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