DA: Drug Court grads less likely to be arrested again

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 17, 2015

Local statistics released by the Covington County District Attorney’s office this week show drug court reduces recidivism rates among offenders.

Drug Court is designed to help those whose crimes are related to addiction overcome those addictions. However, those charged with dealing, manufacturing or trafficking are not eligible.

According to the DA’s office, 106 people have graduated from the local program since 2010.

Of those, 13 (12.26 percent) have been arrested since graduation, with six being for drug crimes; three for DUIs, four for miscellaneous misdemeanors. Of those arrested six were felonies.

Nationally, 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

National statistics collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that two-thirds

(67.8 percent) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years, and three-quarters (76.6 percent) were arrested within five years.

Since the Covington County program’s inception, 47 have been terminated from the program, and 24 of those have been arrested since their termination.

Thirteen of those arrests were drug-related, one was for a DUI, one for burglary and nine for various other misdemeanors.

Drug Court Administrator Sabrina Cobb said outlined the process for drug court, which celebrated three graduates last week.

“Once a person is admitted, they will report to me at least weekly, submit to at least one random drug screening per week, perform community service, attend multiple recovery meetings weekly, appear in court at least once a month to meet with Judge (Lex) Short, enroll in and complete outpatient substance abuse classes or inpatient rehabilitation – depending on the need, obtain their GED, if need be, and so much more.”

At the monthly drug court appearance, Judge Short addresses problems such as failed drug tests or failure to find employment.

“He may scold them, which is no fun,” Cobb said. “He may send them to jail for the weekend, which is certainly not pleasant. Or, he may send them to jail for 60 days, for 90 days or for as long as he feels is appropriate. He sanctions them because he wants them to feel the consequences of their poor decision making.”

Short said, “I want them to succeed, but I make sure they understand that there are heavy consequences if they don’t.”

District Attorney Walt Merrell, who heads the program, said it’s a tough program.

“It is one of the tougher drug courts around, but that is by design,” he said. “I’ve seen other drug courts where they don’t really care about the addict. They process people through like cattle, only to release them out the other side with few tools or equipment to fight the addiction. We refuse to let this drug court, or our office, become such a machine.”

Merell said that drug court is important because it’s import to “fix the problem. It is that simple. Fix the problem. The problem is not drug crime. It is drug addiction. A drug crime is a result of drug addiction. Fix the addiction, and the crime will disappear. Fix the addiction, and the person is restored.”