87 graduate Drug Rehab Court since 2009

Two young men graduated from the Drug Rehabilitation Court on March 19, bringing to 87 the number of participants who have completed the program since the first graduation ceremony in 2009.

The first graduates took 18 months to achieve the program’s goals of sobriety, stable housing and employment. Of last week’s successful participants, one required 13 months and 25 court appearances, while the other took 19 months and 63 court appearances.

Magistrate Valdis Foldats detailed some of the other aspects of their journey through the drug court program. In the open court session that followed, 16 other participants were individually spoken to about their progress or lack thereof, with sanctions or rewards reinforcing the message.

Mr. Foldats pointed out that the graduates had started out the same – having substance abuse issues and offenses. Each decided to take charge of his life, come to court, plead guilty and say, “I need some help.”

One of the two graduates started with the drug court in February 2014. On March 11, 2014, he tested clean. In June, he arranged his schedule to put his counseling first and all non-drug court commitments second. By October, his participation in group sessions was especially noteworthy as he opened up and challenged others appropriately, giving and receiving advice.

The other man took a different route, Mr. Foldats noted. “We used every resource we had, including jail [for therapeutic remands], an electronic monitor, even switching his counselor. At some point, he decided he wanted to be someone different.”

In June 2014, he was still having difficulty with the program, feeling agitated, depressed and ready to quit. Somehow, the professionals in the treatment team and his mother were able to get through to him. Within two months, he was doing well in counseling with good attendance, participation and motivation, Mr. Foldats said. “He has made a change. He found a way to create a new life out of his old life.”

That way included using his sense of humor; avoiding old friends who continued to use drugs; and taking responsibility for himself. Several months later, he got a new job. “The whole team has been pleased with his tenacity,” Mr. Foldats said.

To other drug court participants present he said, “Find your own path. Rely on all the help that is here. See how you can pull yourself up. … I hope their journeys will energize everyone here. You can get to your goals if you stick with the program.”

One young man still in an early stage of the program was sanctioned because he tested positive for drug use after previous warnings; he was taken to the court cells for the remainder of the session. “Abstinence is part of the program,” he was told later. His penalty was 20 hours of community service. He was given a new date by which he must test clean or face seven days in custody.

Another man was moved up a phase because he was complying with all directives. Mr. Foldats read what he had told counselors. “I won’t go back for anything in this world. I feel lucky that I’ve seen what drugs do to people and to me. I’ve gained the respect of my boss and family. I’ve gained my self-respect.”

One man was congratulated for being compliant, staying clean and attending counseling sessions. But he had a minor violation regarding his electronic monitor. “If you want the monitor removed, compliance must be total,” he was told.

Some drug court participants are staying at Caribbean Haven, the residential rehabilitation center. They were asked about their progress and willingness to continue. One man told the court, “I’m going to push forward.”

“Fabulous,” Mr. Foldats replied. “You have to make the right decision every day.”

Two men were discharged from the program after committing new offenses, both burglaries. Their situations had been discussed privately by the drug court team before court began.

One offender told the court, “I would never have committed those offenses if not for the stress I was under.”

The magistrate said it was possibly the first time he disagreed with the team in his decision to send the offender back to regular court. He said the man had been in the program long enough to be aware of the resources; he could have gone to the Withdrawal Management Unit at the hospital, he could have called his counselor or probation officer, but he didn’t. “I have to preserve the integrity of the program,” he pointed out.

Drug court officer Katrina Watler revealed that 21 of the 87 graduates have re-offended, but there was no breakdown available to indicate whether the re-offending had involved drugs or other criminal activities or whether they were traffic violations.

Ms. Watler said traffic offenses would be in the minority, but defense attorney John Furniss later suggested that a more precise breakdown should be obtained: even if the offense reported was something like assault or disorderly conduct, it would be useful to know if any drug abuse was involved, he urged.

The Drug Rehabilitation Court currently has 30 participants.

Drug-Court-Team-March-2015

Members of the drug court treatment team include, clockwise from left, court officer Katrina Watler, defense counsel John Furniss, head of the counseling center Susanne Clements, and probation officers Erica Ebanks and Maxine Anglin. – Photo: Carol Winker
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