3 accepted to Drug Court

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 20, 2010

Six years after planning for a Covington County Drug Court began and eight months after its official beginning on June 15, 2009, the program designed as an alternative means to sentencing for drug offenders has three participants.

District Attorney Greg Gambril said Thursday, the court held its first “before the judge” session last week – a sign the county is moving in the right judicial direction to fight drug abuse.

“It’s taken a while to catch on,” Gambril said. “I think most people are just waiting to see how well the participants do and how the program functions.”

The drug court is a process that allows charges to be set aside for defendants who agree to undergo an intense therapy and drug-monitoring program, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission’s Web site. Gambril has described the program as an alternative mode of punishment and sentencing for only a certain class of drug offenders.

Only first-time drug offenders, and only those “charged with a particular drug offense” such as possession of a controlled substance or a combination of crimes in which drug use was a “significant factor” are eligible for the program. Those charged with felonies such as distribution, trafficking, manufacturing or violent crimes or those that plea down to a program eligible charge are not eligible to participate.

A planning grant to establish the program was awarded in 2004; however it wasn’t until July 15, 2009, that the court began to accept its first applicants.

Since then, 27 people have applied to fill the court’s initial 20 slots from those charged with various drug offenses and other crimes such as attempted murder and driving while under the influence.

“Some of those applications, it was easy to determine they didn’t meet the qualifications,” Gambril said. “Others, we determined didn’t meet the qualifications because they were charged with crimes such as distribution and trafficking.”

Of the three participants selected – two white females and one black female, all between the ages of 20 and 50 – have met the criteria and are in the beginnings of the evaluation process to determine how much and what type of rehabilitation is needed.

In theory, participants will spend 12 months in the program and are required to undergo constant monitoring by two part-time court monitors, as well as secure employment.

Gambril said within the last month an additional six applications have been submitted and are awaiting processing.

Participants are required to pay a $1,500 “drug court fee;” however, that cost is set-aside until the participant is financially able to meet the cost. Then, a payment plan is established, Gambril said.

“Our goal is to get our participants to a level where they are a productive member of society,” he said. “We hope that one day, we can get enough participants that we don’t have to rely on grant money, that we can earn enough for the program to sustain itself.”

Gambril said of the $50,000 seed money allocated to the program in 2008 by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, about half has been spent on salaries for the court monitors and for urinalysis costs for participants. He hopes to receive future allocations from the AOC to fund the program.

“If not, we’ll be out knocking on doors,” he said. “This program is too important to Covington County.”