Tyson leading drug court

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ashley Tyson is new to drug court, but she’s been working with people who have addictions for years.

Recently named administrator of Covington County’s drug court program, Tyson says the program – barely a toddler – has a ways to go.

“It’s been in place with two part-time people for about a year,” she said. “ We still have a ways to go.”

Drug court is usually for first-time offenders who are charged with possession – not distribution – of illegal drugs or a drug-related crime. For instance, one current participant was charged with burglary, but was stealing to fund her habit.

“It’s usually a first offense,” she explained. “The person pleads guilty and gets a suspended sentence.”

From there, individualized plans are developed. Most start with rehab.

“We have to find faith-based rehabilitation because we don’t have money to pay for treatment,” Tyson said. “Once they get through treatment, we monitor their progress.”

Participants meet with a case manager, have periodic drug tests, work with the court referral officer and attend classes offered there, and, hopefully, work with a mental health counselor.

She said funding is available for drug court-mental health partnerships, and she hopes to be able to bring a counselor on board with that funding.

“They also have to pay their fees and fines,” Tyson said.

Typically, participants can finish the program in about a year. If they don’t test positive for drugs and complete other parts of the program, the crime will be removed from their records.

set up to finish in about a year.

Tyson, who previously has worked with a drug-free coalition on prevention issues and as a counselor, said programs like this one are necessary.

“If we lock someone up, it costs $28 a day,” she said. “We need to keep these people productive in society.”

The stress of life gets most in trouble, she said.

“They don’t have good coping skills,” she said. “They turn to a substance thinking it will solve the problems, but it multiplies the problems. It becomes a habit and then a cycle for them.”

Often, substance abuse is a learned behavior.

“Parents set examples,” she said. “Some of the substance abuses are cyclical. Parents sometimes become the model because this is how they cope with stress.”

She firmly believes that people should “funnel energy into something positive, whether it’s going to the gym or playing ball for the church team” to reduce stress and lessen the likelihood of problems.

“Life is stressful,” she said. “You need the outlet, the balance.”

Tyson is a 2002 graduate of Andalusia High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice. She later completed her master’s in psychology and counseling and currently is pursuing a doctorate.

Her husband, Jerry, is the youth minister at Bethany Baptist Church. They have two children, Kinston, 4, and Kenna, 3.