Deputy's checks on drug court clients in jeopardy over funding

Deputy's checks on drug court clients in jeopardy over funding

It's 7 a.m. on a Friday, and Jim Golaszewski starts to check on as many Champaign County drug court clients as he can before calls for service pick up in the area of the county he's assigned to patrol.

For the last two years, the checks have been a part of the daily routine for the veteran Champaign County sheriff's deputy. Since the drug court clients are supposed to take up no more than 25 percent of his 40-hour week, he has to move fast.

"They're getting more than 10 hours a week out of me. The sheriff is flexible as long as I cover my regular duties," he says.

Far from being a monitor trying to catch clients screwing up, Golaszewki sees his role as a guardian, making sure clients are safe and have what they need to succeed.

At the door to James Jones' home in the Prairie Green apartment complex in Urbana, Golaszewki stops to listen a bit before he knocks to get a sense of what's going on. After knocking, he is greeted by a teen getting ready for school. He tells the youth he's there to see Jones, who appears seconds later.

"How are you doing?" Golaszewki asks, quickly explaining the presence of a reporter and photographer and making sure with Jones it's OK for them to be there.

Permission granted, Golaszewski goes about his mission — looking to see who else is there, checking the refrigerator to make sure Jones doesn't have any alcohol or drugs, and inquiring about his overall well-being. The whole visit takes about 7 minutes.

"He's the first one I do like," Jones says of the easy-going but no-nonsense Golaszewski. He's talking about police officers.

"He will help me with my personal problems. I can call him whenever I need him. He's a good person," says Jones, putting into words the core concept of community policing.

Critical team member

On the job for 33 years as a deputy, Golaszewski, 56, says he didn't know much about drug court before he was asked in September 2011 to become a member of the team. The quarter of his time devoted to drug court is paid for by a Department of Justice grant that is nearing an end.

Now in its 15th year in Champaign County, drug court has helped almost 200 hard-core drug addicts change their lifestyles, saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars by keeping them out of the criminal justice system and putting them to work as contributing members of society.

A team of professionals headed by Judge Jeff Ford rides herd on the clients for at least a full year, trying to help them change the behaviors that got them hooked on drugs or alcohol and committing crimes.

Other regular members of the team include a coordinator (who helps clients find volunteer or paid work when appropriate), a prosecutor, a public defender, a probation officer, substance abuse counselors, and mental health counselors.

The team meets every Monday morning before the weekly afternoon court session to go over the progress of each client. They talk about how the client is doing in mental health or addiction counseling, in school or work, or just physically. Some have medical problems brought on by years of abuse.

"A lot of what we do is getting them cleaned up, teaching them responsibility and getting to the bottom of why they used in the first place," Ford says.

What Golaszewski brings to the discussion is how the clients' living environment is affecting their progress.

"He provides the added dimension of saying who the client is residing with," says Mike Carey, the probation officer who has been with drug court since its inception.

"He's able to do checks on people that live in the same house or apartment as to their criminal backgrounds. He gets their names. They may not be residents there. One of the biggest things is — (clients) do surrender their Fourth Amendment rights — he can search the premises, something that probation officers without radios and weapons do not want to do nor are we adequately prepared for doing," Carey says.

Assistant Public Defender Jamie Propps says she was initially worried about clients' rights getting trampled. A member of the team as long as Golaszewski, Propps says she's heard no complaints from any of her clients.

"He's kind with all of them. He's very thorough before he reports anything to the team. He's fair. He'll let us know if he thinks there is a concern but will qualify it if he's not absolutely certain and will ask for time to investigate before the team takes any action," Propps says.

Drug court clients who have setbacks can be sanctioned by the judge, who seeks input from the other team members first.

'Caring and compassionate'

Vicki Moss is an addictions counselor at Prairie Center who has been on the drug court team for more than 10 years. A recovering alcoholic herself, she brings a level of empathy to the job that not all counselors can. Golaszewski, who is quick to admit he never fully understood the struggles of addicts, seems to have a demeanor that the clients appreciate, Moss says.

"When we first got a police officer, I was worried he would be standoffish with the clients. The clients already don't have a healthy perspective of law enforcement, but Jim is so warm and so caring and compassionate with the clients. He really makes the effort to understand what they are going through," she says.

She says she has questioned clients during her sessions with them about their interactions with Golaszewski.

"Their responses are: 'I didn't think cops could be like that. He's a nice guy. I feel that he really cares about me and what I'm doing,'" Moss says.

Victor Ratliff of Champaign has been a drug court client about eight months. At 57, he's had multiple health problems that have accompanied his chemical addiction.

On a recent visit, Golaszewski gently inquired how Ratliff was doing at trying to kick his cigarette habit. Down to about one a day, Ratliff told him.

"I like Jim because he just does his job. He doesn't harass me. If anything, he's an advocate for you. He always wants to know how I'm doing," Ratliff says.

"If I was in trouble, I believe I could say, 'Jim, could you do something to help me?' I know he's limited. Still, he could say to the judge, 'He's truly sorry,'" Ratliff says.

'Leave a big footprint'

Unlike undercover narcotics officers, wearing a uniform, carrying a gun and being in a marked squad car are an important part of Golaszewski's role on the drug court team.

"I try to leave a big footprint in a neighborhood so people know a cop is checking on this person," he says.

He wants the negative people in a client's life to stay away while the client is getting strong enough to push them away on his or her own. An added benefit is getting to know people in the neighborhoods of clients so they aren't afraid to approach him.

Golaszewski says he helped one client deal with an adult son who was also a drug user. An anguishing task for the father, Golaszewski took on the role of the bad guy to keep the son from coming around because the son was jeopardizing the recovery of the father.

Carey says two female clients told him that Golaszewski took care of a person in their neighborhood who was threatening them.

"He's gone and talked to the threateners," Carey says. "He says, 'You need to leave this person alone.' He's willing to go talk to these people who these women fear. I think it does work. I know the clients have said thank you."

In addition to being a direct help to the drug court clients, information he gains while checking clients has been relayed to investigators from all the area departments, helping them solve other crimes.

Like all the members of the drug team, Golaszewski is rooting for the clients to succeed. Giving up cocaine or heroin is not at all as simple as kicking the habit of cigarettes or Diet Coke, he says. And he understands that if the client can beat his or her addiction, then that person's children are less likely to get in trouble.

He also recognizes that going through recovery can be very isolating for the clients.

"They've got to change their friends, their family," he says.

When clients aren't home when he visits, they will tell him in court the next week they're sorry they missed him.

"They're proud that they're doing the right thing and they don't have a lot of people to share that with," he says.

When they do the wrong thing, they know there's a consequence.

"I'm not going to try to get them out of a crime. They know that. I look at it as being a personal trainer. Being there might give them the motivation not to do something when they have an impulse," he says.

Future for drug court deputy

As of the end of this month, the federal funding for Golaszewski's drug court position is gone. That works out to a little more than $18,000 a year, which is about one fourth of his salary and benefits package. Ford says he's working to get the grant extended through the end of March but there's no guarantee of that.

Income for drug court comes from fees assessed against criminal defendants, which averages about $20,000 a year, Ford says. And that amount is committed to other drug court costs in addition to the police officer's pay.

Ford has asked the area chiefs of police and the sheriff if they would chip in to pay for the quarter-time position. While all are supportive of having a police presence on the drug court team, none have put checks in the mail.

"It's a phenomenal program and I wish to God I could support it with 55 officers," says Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly. "Thank God Jim works like a dog. He can do the job of many more than one officer."

That said, Connolly says his current priority is to put money into helping mentally ill people who end up in the county jail.

Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb says he also supports the concept of having a law enforcement officer on the team but doesn't have any money to devote to that person.

"We have a lot of competing needs and issues. We have offered in-kind services, but as far as dollars, that's tough. We're trying to get back on our feet, get additional officers on the department," Cobb says.

Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber echoed Connolly's praise of Golaszewski and the drug court program but likewise says he has no money to help pay for an officer.

"It seems like an easy crutch for us to fall on and say we don't have the financing. It is what it is. We have to be very, very close with our money because it is tough," Farber says.

Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler, who represents the biggest of the small-town police departments, agrees.

"We're not in a position to help. I know what my budget is, and I know what I don't have," he says.

Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh says he knows well the value of having Golaszewski on the team and will do what he can to keep him there.

"I know the other police agencies have numerous demands on their funds and resources as we do. However, we always try to help each other when we can," Walsh says.

"If there is no outside funding assistance, we would try to maintain a deputy in this position. Jim is doing a great job. His personality, experience and wisdom make him well-suited for this complex task of being a role model, guidance counselor and when necessary, a law enforcement officer," Walsh says.

Getting results

Ford says the drug court team has been tracking recidivism rates among drug court graduates and have found Champaign County's rates to be better than the national average. He views that as a major accomplishment given that Champaign County's drug court takes older clients who have long-term addictions considered more difficult to treat.

A review of the 509 offenders sentenced to drug court between March 1999 (when it began) and December 2011 revealed that 35 percent graduated. That means they were clean, sober and crime-free at least a year.

Further, of those out five years, 66 percent did not reoffend.

A federal study of 18 adult drug courts found that those that had a law enforcement officer on the team had higher graduation rates.

While Champaign County's graduation rate is up about 2 to 3 percent since Golaszewski joined the team, Ford is not prepared to attribute the improvement directly to him.

"All I know is it helps us keep people responsible and they all like him — really," Ford says.

It's also clear that the feeling is mutual.

"I never took work home with me as a patrolman. With this, they are ongoing situations, and I want each and every one of these clients to succeed. When they don't, it's very discouraging," Golaszewski says.

The notion that drug court is the easy way out of trouble is totally false, he's learned.

"The proof that it's not true is the clients who voluntarily choose to go to prison saying this is too hard. It's sad for the client but speaks to how challenging the program is."

"I have a very protective feeling toward them. If they don't make it, it's a tragedy. If they do, it's wonderful."