Jailhouse overcrowding in Pontotoc County has created critical problems because there isn’t room for drug offenders to spend their days in jail. Arrests for drug crimes in Oklahoma climbed by 87 percent in the last decade, according to Justin Jones, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Over the past seven years, drug possession is the number one felony offense committed in the Sooner State. If offenders can’t do time in jail there are other sanctions that can be imposed, which include stiffer monetary penalties and other community services, such as working in supervised road crews for trash pickup in lieu of “jail time.”

The drug court program allows an arrested party to voluntarily attend group meetings where he or she is educated on a better way of life, how to live more responsibly, and change unhealthy behavior patterns. Drug court tries to help users help themselves. Nationally, drug courts report retention rates between 67 and 71 percent (American University), which means roughly one third of those who choose drug court drop out.

Drug courts are not an “easy out.” Participants enter a multi-year plan that incorporates structure, discipline, regular counseling and constant drug testing into an extensive supervision and treatment program. Being late or missing any required appointment, like a drug screening or job interview, can land the participant in jail. Repeated mishaps get participants kicked out of the program – no appeals, no delays.

Termination of drug court assistance for abusers maintains the integrity of the program. The program doesn’t get taken seriously if repeaters are “forgiven” and given another chance.

Enticing offenders to sign up for drug court is accomplished by dangling carrots in the form of a chance to get off drugs, and the possibility for the offense to be wiped off his/her record if (s)he successfully completes the course. Those are very desirable carrots for those who seriously want to get straight. Drug court participation is an opportunity to resolve substance abuse and other problems leading to criminal behavior, arrest and jail.

To find out more about the drug court program, contact Londa Johnson, director, at (580) 332-9587.

When pointing out that there is an opportunity for labor, it can mean more than that someone trying to make it in drug court and assigned to work in the community. Everyone that volunteers for worthwhile causes knows that feeling of satisfaction to have contributed, and in the process learned new skills and associations that help a person grow sociably.

The experiences of working in community service can make a positive difference in rehabilitating a young person, first off by the knowledge that they are giving back to the community they offended. Then, there is the possibility that the assignment itself will install in them a pride they had not felt previously. Instilling pride and bolstering self-esteem are key to breaking down the unhealthy behavior patterns.

Communities convinced that alternatives to incarceration do not threaten citizen safety are more likely to support other innovative ideas. Those can lead to a comprehensive and rational approach for dealing with illegal drugs and the people they affect. We have work to be done in this community and that includes coming up with alternatives to incarceration. Habitat for Humanity needs all the help they can get and are very appreciative for it. To find out more about the drug court program, Londa Johnson, director, can be reached at: (580) 332-9587.

or visit with District Judge Thomas Landrith. He welcomes innovative ideas.

*** how it started

In 1989, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida was the first in the nation to implement Drug Court a diversion and treatment program for drug offenders which is overseen by the Court. Its main components are early identification of appropriate candidates, diversion from the ordinary course of prosecution, and rehabilitation of defendants with intensive supervision by the Drug Court judge and treatment specialists. The Program offers drug offenders the chance to avoid prosecution, get off drugs and change their lives in a positive direction.  Thousands of people have taken this chance and have succeeded.  Today, this effective alternative to prosecution has generated Drug Court activity in over 1500 communities nationwide, according to the National Drug Court Institute.

Drug cases consume enormous criminal justice resources within the State of Oklahoma.  40.5% of those incarcerated with the Oklahoma State Department of Corrections are from felony drug offenses.  Of the defendants incarcerated, overall statistics show that one in four return to prison within 3 years of their release .

Last session the Legislature tripled to 4,765 the number of slots in state drug courts. The cost: $16 million over two years. The potential: $38 million in annual savings in prison costs. The infusion of funding catapulted Oklahoma, third in the nation in per capita in incarceration, to first in the nation in drug court funding. This marked the first time the legislature put more money into prison diversion programs than into new prison beds. Funding represents a major step toward a rational policy for dealing with nonviolent offenders who use or sell illegal drugs.

The program has three phases, with drug testing and monitoring throughout the entire program:

Phase I - Detoxification (12 to 15 days, but often continues longer when clients have difficulty getting off drugs): Once clients have volunteered to enter the Program, they are transferred to the County's main treatment clinic to begin detoxification.  During this time, the counselor and client work together to prepare a treatment plan which sets realistic short and longterm goals, identifies barriers to achieving these goals and develops strategies to overcome obstacles.  Treatment includes group and individual counseling, 12step fellowship meetings, and inpatient treatment, if necessary. Approximately 85% of Drug Court participants also use acupuncture to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Counselors recommend that clients move on to Phase II based on an overall impression of their ability to succeed in a less restrictive environment.  At minimum, they must have attended all 12 scheduled sessions with their primary counselor and have at least seven consecutive clean urine results.

Phase II Stabilization (14 to 16 weeks, but can vary from two months to more than a year): In the second phase, clients concentrate on keeping clean by attending individual and group counseling sessions and fellowship meetings, and often continue acupuncture treatments. As in every phase, counselors allow clients to decide on the types of treatment, as long as their urine tests remain negative and they attend required treatment and Court sessions.

Phase III - Aftercare (8 to 9 months, but may be longer depending on the individual's ability to stay drug free): Treatment continues in Phase III, but clients also begin preparing for the future by developing educational and vocational skills for successful re-entry into the community. This may include literacy and GED classes, financial aid, employability skills, training and job development classes, as well as access to current job listings and training programs.