Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kicking the Habit

When I was a Judge one of the the most frustrating things to see were the defendants who kept coming back for either new drug charges or drug problems while on probation. The short-term programs were of little to almost no benefit and an overworked underpaid probation department was hard-pressed to combat the situation and keep the probationers on the clean and narrow.

I hope this newer and more intensive program helps to alleviate some of the problems. Even if it ultimately only solves 50% of the problem it would be a huge success.

New court may help substance abusers

By Chris Cobb: The Herald-Zeitung

Comal County voted to establish a Felony Drug/DWI Court Program Thursday, which will provide an avenue for substance abusers to not only keep their criminal records clean, but also overcome their addictions.

The “Challenge Court,” put forth by 433rd Judicial District Judge Dib Waldrip, is a voluntary program open to third-degree felony drug or DWI offenders. It is designed as a treatment alternative to normal prosecution and hopes to address the county’s drug problems in a more effective manner.“It’s basically to obtain swifter justice, as well as have increased evaluations of the folks that are subjecting themselves and others to their illicit substance abuse,” said Waldrip.

Those arrested for a third-degree drug-related felony can now enter into a rigorous treatment and rehabilitation program as an alternative to jail time, deferred adjudication or regular probation.

The benefits for the county, according to Waldrip, are that it can obtain a larger share of court costs in program-related cases, and it speeds up the judicial process, requiring all defendants to accept responsibility and plead guilty within 60 days.It also takes a more personal approach to the judicial process by having those who choose to take part in the program set their own goals toward rehabilitation.

“It’s an opportunity for certain individuals to take ownership of their drug problems and tell the court how they’re going to change their lives,” said Comal County District Attorney Geoff Barr.

Waldrip stressed that the program, while it may appear more lenient, is actually quite the opposite. Among other things, the defendant is required to make constant court visits, take frequent urinalysis tests and go to group and individual counseling for up to 28 months.

“They get the ability to keep their record clean,” Barr said. “If they do that, great, it’s better for society. If not, the court comes down on them with the full hammer of the law.”The program will be funded in part by the defendants, who could pay up to $1,000 for a substance abuse evaluation, and by the additional money taken in from court costs. Also, the county can apply for state and federal grants for more funding.

Drug courts are an increasingly common system of justice, with over 1,800 similar programs around the country, according to Waldrip. Drug courts are already in place in Guadalupe and Bexar Counties.

“I think there’s no doubt in the world that it has been proven to be successful in other counties,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Jan Kennady. “Not only does it help those people that have drug problems, but it also helps us in terms of jail time and recidivism. I’m all for it.”

Initially it will be implemented as a start-up program. Waldrip expected to have it in place by February and anticipated having 25 or 30 people in the program in the first year.“If we can help them in any way, it’s not only a good thing for them, but it’s a good thing for the country,” Kennady said.