Drug Court helps put juveniles on the right track

Posted By | May 11, 2006 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
Juvenile drug offenders in White County, as well as several other counties in Tennessee, have the opportunity to be a part of a program that will hopefully keep them on a straight and narrow path.
State custody has been the only option for most juvenile offenders when they are sentenced for illegal possession of drugs. However, many juveniles are receiving help through federal funding of a Juvenile Accountability Block Grant.
According to Tammy Holmes, Drug Court coordinator, the program began in December 2002. Drug Courts are also available as an alternative sentencing for adults, but anyone participting in the program must meet certain criteria.
“We previously were covering nine counties in the Upper Cumberland,” said Holmes. “Right now, due to funding cuts, we’re covering five counties.”
The program is offered in White, Van Buren, Cumberland, DeKalb and Putnam counties.
Team members involved with Juvenile Drug Court include the judge, youth services officer, probation providers, school resource officers, school representatives, treatment providers, case managers and community service providers.
Juveniles who participate in this program are referred through the court system, either by a probation officer, attorney or the judge.
“They have to have delinquent charges,” said Holmes. “Then, when we take them into the program – the alcohol and drug assessment – and then, depending on what the assessment tells us. “The team will meet and determine whether this child is appropriate. The case manager would do a brief assessment and just obtain some basic information about the child and the charges. And, if they do meet the criteria, then the team would meet and make the final determination as to whether or not they’re appropriate for the program.
“Then, we get them in the program, that’s when they’re set up with an A&D evaluation. They may need mental health services. We would set that up.
“We work real closely with the schools. If they are needing tutoring or anything like that, we help out with that.”
According to Holmes, the program lasts about nine months for each juvenile.
“We do a lot of home visits,” said Holmes. “They’re drug-screened at least once a week. We have set up family counseling and things like that if we need to. It just depends on the family situation.
“We’ve helped parents with getting their G.E.D.s or with housing, employment issues.”
Holmes said White County has had 27 drug court cases with a success rate of 67 percent.
“It is making a difference,” said Holmes. “I don’t know, in White County, what the stats are as far as the children going into custody, but I know in Putnam County the numbers went down almost by 50 percent We do try to work with the families and issues that may be there to keep them in the home and to keep the family intact.”
The overall goal of the Upper Cumberland Drug Courts is to rehabilitate substance abuse offenders, which will hopefully reduce crime and recidivism through intensive supervision.
According to information provided by the UCDC, the program assists in the conversion of drug offenders to law abiding, self-sufficient citizens. The major objectives include providing for public safety and reducing incarceration costs by using prison space for violent offenders.
Drug Courts offer participants a chance to make a change in their lives and become productive members of the community. This is a voluntary program that includes regular court appearances before a Drug Court judge and team members.
Participants report directly to the Drug Court judge in special sessions. The Drug Court judge rewards success and sanctions non-compliance.
The Drug Court approach differs from the approach of traditional court where the court officers represent and argue different sides of an issue. In Drug Court programs, the judge, prosecutor and public defender discard adversarial roles. In Drug Court, they are members of a team dedicated to one purpose, which is helping the participants.
“We look to see what their history [juvenile] is with the court system,” said Holmes. “We typically don’t take first-time offenders. We have [taken them], but usually they’ve been involved in the court system for some time. These are children that are at risk of being placed in state custody if we do not intervene. A lot of these kids would probably be going into state custody if they did not come into this program.”

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