Boyle and Mercer need a real drug court

Published 6:08 pm Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Our 50th Court District is the only district lacking a drug court certified by the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

This specialized drug court is focused on those with serious addictions whose criminal record is related to their substance use disorders, and who agree to use this treatment to address their addiction and behavior.

They must be pleading to a probation eligible charge, a non-violent, non-sexual offense.

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After a comprehensive assessment, the drug court team — the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, drug court staff, probation/parole and behavioral health specialist — decides to accept or not.

Under the judge’s supervision, all work a specific plan that has shown high rates of success nationally and in Kentucky. Those in the program graduate from a series of phases with decreasing levels of counseling, supervision, and drug testing, along with increasing levels of responsibility and privileges for participants.

Compliance is rewarded and non-compliance brings graduated sanctions. The minimum time for completion is eighteen months. For graduates, the revolving door of addiction/criminal offense/incarceration is broken; the pressure on correctional resources is lessened; they and their families can begin to thrive.

What we have now in Boyle and Mercer counties is not a drug court based on research and evidence but an approach entirely dependent on the decision of the judge in each case.

Sometimes people are let out of prison or jail on the condition they don’t use drugs. Mandatory drug tests up to three times a week (which the person pays for themselves) must be taken and passed or the person is re-incarcerated.

Frequent drug-testing can disrupt employment and drain the money people need to support themselves. One misstep sets people up to fail even if they are getting some treatment in the community.

The revolving door continues to fill our jails and prisons at great human and financial cost to the individuals, their families and the community.

Instead, imagine that a certified Drug Court were in place.

It takes training and six months to set up. The AOC provides the training, three extra court staff and drug-testing — all funded by the state. Officials in every role would better understand addiction and treatment.

They’d know that drug-testing is to monitor treatment, not to determine freedom. Then all those with substance abuse disorder would have a greater chance at rehabilitation.

Boyle and Mercer would be much better off.

Margaret Gardiner