During the crack epidemic in the 1980s, most states got tough on drug offenders, imposing mandatory two-decade prison sentences for convictions. The result was prison overcrowding nationwide.
Something had to be done. In 1989, Florida created the first drug court, making prison an option but focusing on treating the offender’s problem. The Kansas Legislature passed a law in 2003 allowing for drug courts, including one in Lyon County, which offers a nonprison sanction of drug abuse treatment programs for certain offenders convicted of felony drug possession.
Research about drug courts has found that people who complete the program are less likely to offend again and that drug courts can reduce recidivism compared with a traditional probation program.
Lyon County’s drug court system is a team effort by the judge, probation officers and community treatment providers who help people with their substance abuse, housing, employment and mental health issues.
About 60 people are participating at any time. Offenders are assessed and then have six months to a year of treatment, all the while meeting with the judge and court officers, maintaining a job and attending at least four Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week and submitting to drug and alcohol testing.
Then, after successfully completing the program, they graduate.
“We get the whole puzzle instead of just pieces of the puzzle, which helps them in their success,” said Shelley Wright, executive director of Path to Recovery in Emporia.
The judge can penalize drug court participants with community service hours or jail time for transgressions, such as failing drug tests or being late for appointments with officers.
Robert Fairchild, Douglas County’s chief district judge, is interested in a similar program, and District Judge Sally Pokorny has observed Lyon County’s court.
They decided, however, to seek a federal grant for a similar court that focuses on domestic violence. Fairchild said substance abuse is a major contributor in domestic violence cases as well, so likely the local program would help those who also abuse drugs or alcohol.
Douglas County judges should learn in September about whether they will get the grant to help create a domestic violence court.
Here’s hoping they are successful in winning the grant so, as in Lyon County, Douglas County can help offenders be successful in the community rather than confined in prison.