Guest Commentary: Drug court has track record of success

Guest Commentary: Drug court has track record of success

By JEFFREY FORD

Champaign County Drug Court started in 1999. As of Nov. 29, 2017, we have 277 graduates. To graduate, a participant needs at least one year of continuous sobriety, complete all recommended treatment and be involved in a recovery program. Many have received their GEDs or high school diplomas before graduation. Almost everyone who was employable works, contributing to Champaign County's tax base.

We have saved the state of Illinois money by not sending this population to the penitentiary. Our drug court participants have gone from numerous arrests to near zero. There are fewer police contacts than before and fewer court hearings. Other savings include reduced foster care placements and reduced DCFS and health care costs. While in drug court these graduates have not been rearrested for property crimes, forgery, burglary, possession of drugs, etc., and they are less likely to recidivate than those in the system who have not gone through drug court. Families remain together. Research has shown that for every dollar spent on drug courts, $2-$4 goes back to the community for a 200%-400% return. This is said to translate into net economic savings of approximately $3,000 to $22,000 per participant. For Champaign County, this would be savings between $81,000 to over $6,000,000 since 1999.

Drug court involves professionals working together as a team with the court. The team includes the state's attorney, public defender, probation, and treatment and recovery professionals. In 2011, we applied for a grant that included a quarter-time sheriff's deputy on our team. The research has shown that law enforcement on your team is associated with higher graduation rates.

Champaign County Drug Court has seen a rise in our graduation rate since our deputy came aboard. Although this may seem counterintuitive, the increased monitoring keeps our participants on track. In fact, in 2012, when it appeared we would lose the deputy when the grant ran out, over a dozen of the drug court participants wrote about how the deputy helped each of them and that they did not want to lose him. We now have people with multiple felony convictions going to a uniformed officer for help and getting that help. Many jurisdictions talk about the benefits of community policing, but cannot get there. In 2012, I approached the police chiefs in Champaign County and while they all agreed that the program was worthwhile, they advised that there were no funds to keep it going after the grant.

For the past four years, we have not had funding for the officer. Sheriff Dan Walsh graciously agreed that as long as he had a deputy who wanted to be part of drug court and he had the staff available, he could continue with a quarter-time deputy.

Our drug court officer often enters a participant's home but has never entered and arrested the participant. That is not the purpose. Trust is gained in these encounters.

For example, a few years back two children had found a gun near the street. They were familiar with our officer and trusted him enough to bring that gun to him.

Mary Schenk has written about our drug court graduates and has provided up-to-date statistics. The statistics for our November 2017 graduation are very good. Since the 11 graduates have been in our drug court, they have committed two traffic offenses — one speeding and one failure to yield.

I write to advise the people of Champaign County that my desire is to continue with these types of results. Because of budget restraints leading to staffing problems in the sheriff's office, there have been times when the sheriff has needed to have our deputy out on the road. For over a month our deputy has not always been able to fulfill most of his drug court responsibilities. This is no fault of the sheriff. Public safety is his primary concern and our county needs deputies on patrol daily to cover the large areas of our county. The sheriff has recently made sure that I knew he also believes that our deputy is very important to public safety. His intent is only to call our deputy off his drug court rounds when emergencies occur.

In a time when opiates are a concern and our drug court is producing positive results in this fight, losing the deputy would be counterproductive. Every citizen of Champaign County is impacted by the success or failure of our drug court.

Jeffrey Ford is an elected circuit judge who presides over Champaign County's drug court.

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